George Akpayen ,
Tue 5 Feb '13
| © supersport.com
The first time the paths of both men crossed was at the 1999 edition of the Fifa Under-20 World Championship in Nigeria. At that time both players were teenagers.
In spite of tracing their tracks back to 1999, Joseph Yobo of Nigeria and Mali's Seydou Keita have often been behind the scenes when achievements are discussed in African football with the likes of Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto'o, Emmanuel Adebayor and Yaya Toure among others.
But the statistics of head-to-head meetings between both men tell the story of true African warriors in the sport of football.
First meeting in 1999
Yobo and Keita have now grown to become big players for their respective nations and are now captains of their teams after their first clash at Under-20 level in Enugu on April 18, 1999.
At that time, Keita, a year younger than his Nigerian counterpart was the spine of the Malian Under-20 team with Yobo playing from a central midfield role. Keita's team triumphed in that quarterfinal clash by 3-1 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu and proceeded to finish third at the 1999 Under-20 World Cup.
First & second Afcon meets
And three years later, both men were involved once more when Mali played hosts to the 2002 Afcon. Drawn in same group, hosts, Mali and Nigeria settled for a goalless in Bamako with Yobo playing at right-back against Keita and his teammates.
Few days later in same tournament, Yobo and Keita faced off for the losers' final and the former triumphed with a goal.
The Monastir exception
Two years later when Nigeria edged Mali to third place at the Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet, Monastir in Tunisia, Yobo paired Joseph Enarkhire but Keita missed the game.
It was the only time both men did not come up face-to-face with each other in an Afcon game involving Mali and Nigeria since 2002.
The stalemate in Takoradi
In 2008 at the Sekondi Stadium in Sekondi-Takoradi, Mali and Nigeria clashed again and in a Group C match on January 25. Keita and Yobo were in thick of things for their nations, and this time it ended goalless.
Nigeria's Super Eagles later qualified in second place behind Cote d'Ivoire in an all-West African group with Benin Republic being the fourth team from the region. Mali finished third and Keita and his teammates packed out of Takoradi that year.
Fourteen years later
Fourteen years down the lane, both men are not just captains of their teams but also leaders. Today, both players are in the twilight of their international careers with Yobo being his nation's most capped footballer with more than 90 caps.
Wednesday's match-up at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban could be the last time both men come face-to-face after a 14-year-old rivalry from youth to senior levels. Yobo appears to have lost his starting place to youngsters, Kenneth Omeruo and Godfrey Oboabona, while Keita is his team's mainstay at this Afcon.
And Yobo, 32, has acknowledged the presence of the young centre-backs in the Nigerian squad saying: “Being young does not mean being inexperienced because those young players have already gained a lot of experience in their clubs.
"They played the qualifiers with the national team, and for some of them in the Champions League with their clubs. This has given them a lot of self-confidence."
But whatever the outcome after 90 or 120 minutes in Durban on February 6 in this clash between Mali and Nigeria, one of the two captains will stand a chance of winning a first African title in his career.