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The Brain Behind a Mali Team With High AFCON Hopes – Éric Chelle

Mali, a country in West Africa, has an interesting history at the Africa Cup of Nations.

In 1972, Mali reached the final and lost 3-2 to Congo. They have recorded two third place finishes in 2012 and 2013. The tournament had been hosted in back-to-back years as AFCON switched to odd-numbered years. This removed the competition from taking place in years the World Cup was taking place. 

The team has also finished fourth three times in 1994, 2002, and 2004.  

In the two most recent AFCON competitions during 2019 and 2021, Mali has reached the Round of 16. Every other appearance Mali has made at AFCON resulted in a group stage exit.

Mali manager Éric Chelle is hoping to guide ‘Les Aigles’ to the latter stages of the tournament once again. Chelle, who played for the national team on five occassions, was appointed as manager of the team in May 2022. In an interview with Canal+ Sport Afrique, he told the public about his mentality around how the team is viewed.

“The football world laughs at Malian football,” Chelle said. “So, I told my players to stop making them laugh and show who we are. It doesn’t matter what happens whether we win or not, but from now on to meet Mali we will have to go there and we will be respected.”

Mali’s form going into AFCON has been no laughing matter. 

They are currently on a six-match unbeaten streak heading into the tournament. None of the teams they have beaten in this run will feature in the tournament, but their dominant performances remain encouraging. 

The squad has only conceded three goals in the past six matches. 

A 3-1 victory in a friendly against Saudi Arabia on October 17th, could perhaps be used as a better barometer. During this time last year, Saudi Arabia had just been recently eliminated from the World Cup, but were still able to pull off a stunning 2-1 win against Argentina in the group stages.


Mali were facing a team with some proven quality on the world stage, but had the quality to match their opponents.

Twenty-two players in their most recent squad selected ply their trade in Europe. There are six players who play in Ligue 1. There are two players who play in the Premier League — Spurs star Yves Bissouma and Crystal Palace’s emerging talent Cheick Doucoure.

Bissouma’s importance for club and country can not be understated. He is capable of breaking up play and starting attacks as a center midfielder. The ability to dribble past players from midfield positions and win the ball back is pivotal in African football. In the Premier League, these tools are vital as well. Passing has helped Bissouma catapult himself into an elite midfielder this season. These abilities provide security to the midfield.


For Mali specifically, there are some hesitations around the midfield positions. It does not surround a shortage of quality in this area. There are many talented players in the squad that play center midfielder or holding midfielder. Attempting to fit all of them into the team may give Éric Chelle headaches from a tactical perspective.

From a defensive standpoint, Chelle has emphasized structure. He likes for his team to set up in a 4-4-2 diamond, 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-3 on some occasions. There is intent on moving laterally across the pitch when the team doesn’t have the ball to close down spaces. When the team does receive the ball, they look to play forward passes and transition into open space quickly.

In the final third, there are players who can threaten teams. Adama Traoré is in great form for Hungarian giants Ferencváros. Exciting 20-year-old Dorgeles Nene has appeared three times in the Champions League this season. For Mali, he has been able to notch two goals and two assists in qualification matches for AFCON.

Other players that weren’t mentioned are featuring in some of Europe, Asia, and Africa’s top clubs and divisions. The squad in entirety possesses technical ability, speed, strength, and structure. 

The blend of players and quality in their team gives Mali a strong chance to make it past the group stage of the tournament. Their group, Group E, consists of Tunisia, South Africa, and Namibia. Competition in this group is considerable, but perhaps not to the extent of some of the other groups. 

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Éric Chelle will be hoping to secure a result in Mali’s opening match against South Africa on January 16th in his first match as a manager at AFCON. A good result could be the beginning of a fairytale run for ‘Les Aigles’.


  • Jaden Dakwa

    I am a sports journalist and I have been writing about football since 2021. Sports, in general, have been a passion of mine since a young age. The Gunners in North London are definitely my favorite team, but I have overwhelming love for the sport of football as a whole. In that aspect of my life, not much has changed.