Mali: Season of Mists
Expect Mali to set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with the flexibility to switch easily to a 4-5-1 in situations that demand a more defensive approach.
A topsy-turvy qualifying campaign (the Eagles won three and lost three) is replicated in a team selection that often chopped and changed with little consistency.
This theme begins between the sticks, where Mamadou Samassa and Oumar Sissoko started three matches a piece. The Guingamp man was dismissed in the opener against Malawi and was then dropped after the dismal defeat to Ethiopia.
Sissoko replaced him for the last two fixtures and would have been quietly confident of keeping his place after a superb save in the victory over Algeria.
Remarkably, however, both men have been axed for the Cup of Nations squad, leaving Germain Berthe, Soumbeila Diakite and N’Tjie Michel Samake to contest the No. 1 jersey.
In defence, veteran Fousseni Diawara and left-back Adama Tamboura were ever-presents and they will retain their spots in Equatorial Guinea. The former stepped in as a right-back for the final group match but I fully expect him to return to the centre at the Afcon.
He will likely be partnered by Salif Coulibaly, with namesake Idrissa in reserve. On the right, I expect Ousmane Coulibaly of Platanias to start, leaving Drissa Diakite and Alassane Tambe to vie for a spot in reserve.
In central midfield, Henryk Kasperczak will turn to defensive pair Yacouba Sylla and Tongo Doumbia. Both will be familiar to fans of Midlands football after disappointing spells in English tussles but will relish the imminent midfield battles with the likes of Serey Die, Cheick Tiote and Eyong Enoh.
Mamoutou N’Diaye of Zulte Waregem, could replace either man quite comfortably.
Their lack of subtlety will be compensated for by the presence of evergreen Seydou Keita. An African legend after his successful stint as a part of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona dream team, the veteran remains a vital player for the Eagles, despite turning 35 on the eve of the tournament.
Mustapha Yatabare, who swapped Guingamp for Trabzonspor in the summer will lead the line. He is a powerful actor who found the net twice during qualification.
I expect Mustapha’s brother Sambou (who replaced his sibling at the Stade du Roudourou) to support him from the right flank, and Bakary Sako, of Wolves, to feature on the left.
Kasperczak has options here.
Should he want to include Valenciennes’s Sigamary Diarra on the left (as he did against Algeria) then Sako can move to the right with the younger Yatabare dropping into midfield.
Cheick Diabate,of Bordeaux, would have been a strong option, and his inclusion could have seen Mustapha Yatabare move over to the left to accommodate the Ligue 1 hitman. An injury to Diabate, however, has ruled him out, meaning that Modibo Maiga and Mohamed Traore are the backup options.
The former didn’t feature at all during qualification, but has had some fine spells with Metz in Ligue 1 so far this term. The latter featured in four qualifying matches as a substitute, without finding the net.
Another Bordeaux player, Abdou Traore, has been included despite not featuring during qualification. He will provide energy through the middle and can also provide cover on the flanks.
Nouha Dicko, also of Wolves, has also been overlooked, having never quite earned the manager’s confidence, leaving Mouscron’s Abdoulay Diaby as another trump card for Henryk Kasperczak. The forward only scored once during qualification, but he has 12 goals in 19 in the Jupiler League so far this season and currently leads the Belgian scoring charts. He will head to Equatorial Guinea bang on form.
by Ed Dove