Mali v Guinea preview
West African rivals Mali and Guinea will be looking to take a giant stride towards the quarter-finals when they kick off their Group D campaigns.
Last Updated: 24/01/12 12:40pm
West African rivals Mali and Guinea will be looking to take a giant stride towards the quarter-finals when they kick off their Group D campaigns on Tuesday.
There could be a very unfamiliar look to the Mali side for their Africa Cup of Nations opener, especially with captain Seydou Keita rated as doubtful.
Les Aigles have taken a very young side to the tournament - co-staged in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea - with Keita just one of a handful of experienced campaigners.
The Barcelona midfielder is suffering from a knee strain as well as a sprained ankle and faces a battle against time to be declared fit for the Stade de Franceville tie.
The doubt surrounding Keita's participation has heaped pressure on coach Alain Giresse, who saw defenders Adama Coulibaly and Amadou Sidibe ruled out of selection ahead of the event while Mohamed Fofana and Khalilou Traore had to withdraw after being included in the final 23-man squad.
To further add to Giresse's woes, Bordeaux striker Cheick Tidiane Diabate has suffered a hamstring injury, although Metz midfielder Mahamane Traore and Guingamp striker Mustapha Yatabare are expected to be fit despite missing the team's first training at the Bongoville Stadium on Saturday evening.
Guinea have been more successful than their larger neighbours in recent AFCON competitions, after reaching the quarter-finals in 2006 and 2008, compared to Mali who failed to emerge from the group stages at the same tournaments.
They have a better blend of youth and experience and can call upon winger Pascal Feindouno and defender Bobo Balde for their opening tie.
The last time these two sides met was in a 2004 Nations Cup quarter-final in Tunisia where the Malians secured a narrow 2-1 win.
With four-time champions Ghana expected to top Group D, this match is vitally important for both sides. Debutants Botswana complete the four-team pool.
Ahead of the tie, Keita said: "It will be a very difficult game but we have often enjoyed the luck against Guinea at this tournament.
"But this is a very different tournament in many ways. First, Mali are here with a very young team and also this will be our opening match in this competition.
"It's a big personal responsibility because I'm one of the most experienced players in the team now and must therefore lead by example.
"But at the same time, Seydou alone cannot beat Guinea. We must respect the other team and play as a team to win."
Guinea's French coach Michel Dussuyer, meanwhile, who guided his side to qualification ahead of Nigeria, insists his men must be fully focused if they are to earn a result on Tuesday.
"It was great to finish ahead of Nigeria. Guineans were proud of the team, but all that is now in the past," said no-nonsense Dussuyer, who is missing Kevin Constant after the star midfielder chose club ahead of country.
"We therefore have to continue to work hard, give our 100 per cent always, because we are not in an easy group.
"Our first objective is to get past the first round. Ghana and Mali will be our major rivals, but we will also not take for granted Botswana, who were the surprise team in the qualifiers."