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Football | Afcon

Keshi relishing Mali reunion



Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi says he is looking forward to going up against his former team when Nigeria face Mali in the semifinals of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday night, kick-off at 5pm.

Keshi was in charge of the Malian national team from 2008 to 2010, but will now look to plot their downfall when the two sides meet at the Moses Mabhida Stadium.

The former Nigerian international has already steered his team past a tough challenge as they managed to outclass favourites Ivory Coast to win their quarterfinal tie 2-1 and is now relieved to face more familiar opposition.

“Ninety per cent of their (Mali) current players used to play for me when I was the head coach,” Keshi told reporters. “So I know what to expect from them on Wednesday.

“We are going to take every game as they come. We are not thinking of the final now but the semifinal against Mali.

“My knowledge is an edge but that does not mean we are not going to work extra-hard to be able to make it to the next round.”

Mali coach Patrice Carteron on the other hand is hopeful that his players will be able to recover from following their physically-demanding semifinal against hosts South Africa.

The two sides were deadlocked at 1-1 after playing for 120 minutes before Mali prevailed 3-1 via the penalty shootout.

"We will need to be fresh and ready physically for this semifinal, as we spent a lot of energy in the quarterfinal,” said Carteron. “That will be big part of the preparation for the match against Nigeria.

“This is not just about our tactics and set moves, but also about being physically fit. We will need to play with our hearts, with generosity, we will not be allowed to make any mistakes and play a great game if we want to make it to the finals.

"I think my players understand what is at stake. I told them after Saturday's match that our job is not to celebrate just now because we made it to the semifinals.

“When you are lucky enough to play in the semifinals of the Africa Cup of Nations, you need to prepare for it, and I am very satisfied about what I have seen among my players in the past 48 hours”

Carteron also admitted that on paper Nigeria have more individual talent that his side, but hopes that they will work as a team to pull off an upset.

"I am not afraid, I do respect them, because it is a very good team,” he added. “I said after the qualification that this team (Nigeria) as Ivory Coast is better than us, but we can never know.

“If we give 100 percent, and physically we are ok, maybe we can try to make a miracle.”

When the two sides met in the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations it was Nigeria who walked away with a 2-1 victory to claim bronze medals, but they could not be separated two years later, playing to a 0-0 draw.



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