Preview: Mali and Bafana gear up for epic AFCON showdown

Preview: Mali and Bafana gear up for epic AFCON showdown

In a riveting kick-off to Group E in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, Mali and South Africa will square off under the floodlights in Ivory Coast this Tuesday.

This encounter marks the third time these football powerhouses meet on the AFCON stage, with Mali having triumphed in both prior match-ups.

The historical scoreboard tips in Mali's favour, as they clinched victories over South Africa in the quarter-finals of the 2002 edition (2-0) and in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout in 2013 after a 1-1 draw in extra time (3-1 on penalties).

However, this year's AFCON promises a level playing field, with Tunisia and Namibia completing a group that appears as one of the most evenly matched in the tournament.

Mali's journey to AFCON 2023 exemplifies their pedigree in African football. Topping Group G, they amassed an impressive 15 points, dropping only a single game to Gambia. A perennial AFCON contender, Mali have played 54 games in the tournament without lifting the trophy.

Despite facing an injury crisis, with notable absentees including Ibrahima Kone and Cheick Doucoure, coach Eric Chelle's squad aim to break the cycle of exiting at the round of 16 in recent editions.

On the flip side, South Africa enter the tournament with a rich history, winning the AFCON title in 1996 when they hosted the competition. This year marks their 11th appearance, and after a hiatus since 2019, they are back with a point to prove.

Led by coach Hugo Broos, who secured AFCON glory with Cameroon in 2017, Bafana's line-up boasts an impressive roster, with over half the squad representing the formidable Mamelodi Sundowns.

Bafana's qualification for AFCON 2023 saw them secure their spot on March 28, 2023, and their only loss in the group stage came against Morocco, the group winners. While they haven't replicated the success of 1996, South Africa's recent quarter-final finish in 2019, where they narrowly lost to Nigeria, hints at the potential for a deep run this time around.

As the sides collide in Ivory Coast, both Mali and South Africa are keen to make a statement in a tournament that holds the promise of drama, skill, and perhaps a historic triumph for one of these AFCON stalwarts. Brace yourselves for a battle where past victories and defeats stand as mere prologue to what unfolds on the pitch under the African night sky.

Mali 27-man squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Djigui Diarra (Young Africans SC), Aboubacar Doumbia (AFE), Ismael Diawarra (Malmo)

Defenders: Hamari Traore (Real Sociedad) Falate Sacko (Montpellier) Boubacar Kouyate (Amiens) Sikou Niakate (SC Braga), Mousa Diarra (Toulouse) Amadou Dante (Strum Graz)

Midfielders: Diadei Samassekou (Hoffenheim), Mohamed Camara (AS Monaco), Amadou Haidara (RB Leipzig), Aliou Dieng (Al Ahly), Lassana Coulibaly (Salernitana) Kamory Doumbia (Brest), Adama Noss Traore (Hull City), Yves Bissouma (Tottenham) Boubacar Traore (Wolverhampton)

Forwards: Sekou Koita (RB Salzburg), Dorgeles Nene (RB Salzburg), Moussa Doumbia (Al Adala), Fousseni Diabate (Lausanne-Sport), Ibrahim Sissoko (Saint Etienne), Lassine Sinayoko (AJ Auxerre), Youssoufa Niakate (Baniyas), Serine Doucoure (Lorient)

South Africa 23-man squad in full:

Goalkeepers: Ronwen Williams (Mamelodi Sundowns), Veli Mothwa (AmaZulu FC), and Ricardo Goss (SuperSport United)

Defenders: Sydney Mobbie (Sekhukhune United), Grant Kekana (Mamelodi Sundowns), Terence Mashego (Mamelodi Sundowns), Nkosinathi Sibisi (Orlando Pirates), Aubrey Modiba (Mamelodi Sundowns), Siyanda Xulu (SuperSport United), Mothobi Mvala (Mamelodi Sundowns), Khuliso Mudau (Mamelodi Sundowns)

Midfielders: Teboho Mokoena (Mamelodi Sundowns), Siphephelo Sithole (Tondela, Portugal), Jayden Adams (Stellenbosch), Thabang Monare (Orlando Pirates), Thapelo Maseko (Mamelodi Sundowns), Thapelo Morena (Mamelodi Sundowns)

Forwards: Themba Zwane (Mamelodi Sundowns), Zakhele Lepasa (Orlando Pirates), Oswin Appollis (Polokwane City), Mihlali Mayambela ( Aris Limassol, Cyprus), Percy Tau (Al Ahly), and Evidence Makgopa (Orlando Pirates).

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