After leading Mali through the group phase of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations to the quarterfinals, captain Seydou Keita says their main objective for the tournament has been achieved and thus his side will engage hosts South Africa with lesser pressure on Saturday in Durban.
The former Barcelona midfielder acknowledged the clash would be difficult because of the home support set to accompany Bafana Bafana, but that the 1996 winners would have their back more to the wall.
“I must confess that it wouldn’t be an easy encounter because we’re facing the host nation South Africa. Eleven years ago we were in the same situation when we hosted the tournament in Mali,” Keita said.
“Hosting an Afcon generates a lot of ambition and support, and also inspires the host team to excel. However, it heaps much pressure on the home side.
“We, the Eagles, are a young team and we have achieved our main objective of the tournament which was reaching the knockout stage. Now, the next possible step is to cross the quarterfinals into the semis. We are not scared of South Africa. We’ll play against them like we have been doing so far,” the 33-year-old, who now plays for Chinese club Dalian Aerbin, said.
Back home in Mali, locals are hoping to celebrate two victories - beating Bafana and qualifying to the semifinals and a total liberation of the vast West African nation from Islamic extremists, as the war enters its decisive phase this week, with French soldiers and loyalists gaining ground in the rebel-held North.
“It has been great moments in Bamako and in other cities of Mali since we qualified to the quarterfinals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations,” Ahmed Diakite, a 37-year-old school teacher told supersport.com on Wednesday.
“Football is our greatest hope now due to what is happening here. Beating South Africa would be like another victory for us if the soldiers are able to defeat the Islamists in the north of our country.
“We knocked co-hosts Gabon out of the 2012 Afcon and we can still do it again against hosts South Africa,” he said.