Mali's coach embraces South Africa's strengths ahead of AFCON clash

Mali's coach embraces South Africa's strengths ahead of AFCON clash

Mali's coach Eric Chelle exudes confidence as his team gear up for a highly anticipated clash against South Africa in the 2023 CAF Africa Cup of Nations.

The match will kick off on tuesday evening at Korhogo's Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium.

Chelle dismisses the notion that South Africa's predominantly domestic-based squad is a disadvantage. In fact, he sees it as a strategic advantage for Bafana Bafana. "They all play in the same league, and so we respect this team as they are former winners of the competition," Chelle affirmed to the CAF website.

"They may not have a lot of players overseas, but the fact that they play in the same league means that they know each other very well, which is a great advantage in such a competition."

This encounter marks the third meeting of these football powerhouses on the AFCON stage. Mali hold the historical edge, having triumphed in both prior match-ups. The victories came in the quarter-finals of the 2002 edition (2-0) and a nerve-wracking penalty shootout in 2013 after a 1-1 draw in extra time (3-1 on penalties).

Despite Mali's historical advantage, Chelle acknowledges that this year's AFCON promises a level playing field, with Tunisia and Namibia rounding out a group that appears to be one of the most evenly matched in the tournament.

Bafana, led by coach Hugo Broos, field a squad primarily composed of locally-based players, with the exception of Siphephelo Sithole who plays for Tondela in Portugal, Mihlali Mayambela of Aris Limassol in Cyprus and standout performer Percy Tau, who plies his trade at Egypt's Al Ahly.

Broos acknowledges Mali's historical success but warns against underestimating his squad. "We respect them. We are aware of their strengths and weaknesses, but we have also prepared well for this match," Broos asserts.

Chelle echoes Broos' sentiment, emphasizing the significance of South Africa's experience in AFCON. "South Africa has been participating for several years in AFCON. We don't take them lightly, and they have actually won the AFCON."

As the team prepare to collide on Tuesday evening, the stage is set for a compelling encounter, where the dynamics of local camaraderie in South Africa's squad clash with Mali's historical prowess, creating an intriguing narrative for football enthusiasts.

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