Tips for Keshi to win 'bird fight'
Patrice Carteron's men now stand in Nigeria's path to the final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa.
The Eagles of Mali are the highest ranked team of the four semifinalists and It is their second consecutive appearance in the last four after reaching same stage in the last edition in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea last year.
If Nigeria's Super Eagles want to jump over the Malian hurdle and reach their first Afcon final in 19 years, here are ways to go about Wednesday's semifinal clash at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban:
Don't write off Mali
It was good showing pre-tournament favourites, Cote d'Ivoire, the Afcon exit door with that 2-1 win in the quarterfinal on Sunday. However, it is now time for Keshi to calm the ship and tell his troops that the battle has just started ahead of the Mali game.
So, focus should be on Mali first before thinking of a likely final game on February 10 with Ghana, which is still paper talk.
Former Nigerian midfielder, Austin Okocha's advice has also come timely in that regard. "This is football so all teams (in the semifinals) have a chance. Having beaten Ivory Coast, the tournament is wide open," Okocha warned.
A leaf from Bafana & Black Stars
Now the Super Eagles need to realise football is a game of two halves and at times, two-and-a-half (if there's any of such) when it goes into extra time. Keshi's men can borrow a leaf from the experience of South Africa's Bafana Bafana who ran Mali ragged in the first half of their clash but failed to kill off the game.
And just may be, watching the video of how Ghana's Black Stars tamed this crafty Malian squad in the group stages of this tournament can be helpful to the Nigerian team.
Movement of the ball
Here's one area where the Super Eagles will need to be decisive because the Malians play as a gang moving forward and tracking back at the same time. South Africa showed in their first half display that quick movement of the ball and bodies from defence to attack can open up and hurt Mali.
The Nigerians will have to be fast and smart when with the ball in the final third of this match. Strikers Victor Moses and Emmanuel Emenike should do well in this area.
Playing as a gang
Keshi's men should not allow ego set in at this point. The team need to continue in same stride of playing for each other like they did against Cote d'Ivoire's Elephants. Covering every blade of the grass in this match is key as the Malians are adept in ghosting into unmanned spaces unnoticed.
Stifling Mali's 4-5-1 formation
True Keshi took charge of Mali three years ago and know them well but The Eagles are now under Frenchman, Carteron. No disrespect to the Super Eagles manager but he needs to find a solution to neutralise Mali's effective 4-5-1 style, which can switch to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 depending on match situations, from hurting his team on Wednesday.
Players to keep an eye on
From their goalkeeper to their lone man upfront, the Malians are a unit. But captain Seydou Keita is the main man who pulls the strings with the help of the like of Adama Tamboura, Samba Sow, Modibo Maiga, Mohamed Sissoko, Samba Diakite and Chievo striker, Mamadou Samassa.
Training for spot kicks
In the knockout stages, this is always the last resort after two hours of stalemate. In this game, the lottery is possible. Mali's goalkeeper, Soumbeila Diakite, has already shown he is an expert in stopping spot kicks and the Super Eagles must show accuracy from 12 yards should they want to play in the tournament's final for the first time in their careers.