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AFCON quarter-finals: Mali vs Ivory Coast preview

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It has been a crazy AFCON for Ivory Coast.

A 4-0 loss to Equatorial Guinea in the group stages, a sacked manager and then a shock victory over champions Senegal have all contributed towards a blockbuster tournament for the hosts.

They now find themselves with an unanticipated opportunity to reach the final but will have to get past a strong Mali side first at 17:00 GMT today at the Stade Bouake.

Image Credit: Ben Sutherland

The case for Ivory Coast

The prospect of an early exit loomed over Ivory Coast as they suffered a devastating 0-4 loss to Equatorial Guinea in the final group stage fixture. This defeat led to the dismissal of their head coach, Jean-Louis Gasset, with Emerse Faé, the assistant, stepping into the managerial role.

Nonetheless, they seized an opportunity handed to them by the Moroccan national team, who clinched a 1-0 victory against Zambia and helped the Elephants secure one of the four slots reserved for the top-performing third-placed teams.

Ivory Coast looked poised for another embarrassing defeat in the Round of 16 as Senegal took an early lead in the fourth minute. However, Fae’s men regrouped, and his offensive substitutions in the second half proved pivotal, culminating in a crucial penalty that secured the equalizer.

Following a 5-4 victory in the penalty shootout, Fae had this to say “We’ve come a long way. We were almost out of the tournament. We’ll continue working, take each game as it comes, and seeing what happens.”

Perhaps the turning point of the game was bringing on Borussia Dortmund striker Sebastian Haller in the final quarter of the Senegal match. The striker, making his first appearance in this tournament, provided the crucial assist that led to the penalty kick.

Ivory Coast, aiming for their third title after 1992 and 2015, hopes that the team has awakened from the early shock, and that Haller will be on point again against the Les Aigles. Alongside the hard-working midfielders Franck Kessié, Siko Fofana, and Ibrahim Sangaré, they hope that Jean-Philippe Krasso will regain his scoring form after his spectacular goal in the opening match.

However, these dreams will not be easy to achieve practically when the players of Ivory Coast enter the Salam Stadium in Bouaké to face Mali, which is participating in the tournament for the ninth consecutive time and topped its group (with a win and two draws), before eliminating Burkina Faso 2-1 in the quarterfinals. 

The case for Mali

Opta rate Mali as favourites for this tie, but it will be a tough ask against a resurgent Ivory Coast side with the home crowd behind them. The Eagles have had an impressive tournament, conceding just one goal in the group stages before edging past Burkina Faso 2-1 in the round of 16.

Lassine Sinayoko was particularly impressive in that match and will be hoping to have a similar impact against Ivory Coast. He has scored three of Mali’s five goals in this tournament.

Mali have never been eliminated from the quarter-final stage of the AFCON, winning all five of their previous quarter-finals.

They are set up well by coach Éric Chelle. Their compact, dynamic midfield has been dominant in the tournament so far and are often quick to support attacks and get players in the box.

Amadou Haidara is crucial to this but came off with an injury against Burkina Faso. The Eagles will be hoping that he has shaken it off and can feature in this one.

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The winner will face DR Congo in the semi-finals, a fixture that both Mali and Ivory Coast will feel confident in progressing from.

Authors

  • Michael Thomas

    Sports writer, cricket fan (emphasis on fan, not expert) and self-pitying West Bromwich Albion supporter. Always open to researching and writing about different topics.

  • Mohammad Joseph

    Mohammad, 23, is a trilingual Palestinian born and raised in Jerusalem, that always brags about being from the same “birthplace of the legendary Jesus Christ”. An aspiring sports journalist, previously having experience in the marketing world now looking to achieve his dreams of covering the sports he loves, from football to athletics to mixed martial arts. He is the co-social media editor for the Sports Gazette.