After three semifinals in the last 10 years, Mali are looking to finally break the barrier and reach their first final in the Africa Cup of Nations. Nigeria, always a favorite and always a disappointment, haven’t been to the finals since 2000, finishing third four times since.
Things have gone a little differently this time for Stephen Keshi and his men, or at least they seem to be. After two disappointing draws to open the tournament, conceding late equalizers against Burkina Faso and Zambia, Nigeria managed to squirm its way through a very tenacious Ethiopia team, needing the help of two Victor Moses penalties to go through into the quarterfinals. There, they had what was probably the match of the tournament, in a fixture that could have been a final, beating the Ivory Coast 2-1, with goals from the current star of Nigerian football, Emmanuel Emenike, and a late winner from Sunday Mba, who still plays his club football in the country.
Nigeria shouldn’t have anyone missing from the lineup that beat the Ivory Coast, but there is a chance Fegor Ogude could come back into the Nigerian line-up to replace Ogenyi Onazi. The Nigerian strength, as always, relies on its talented attack, and the ability to feed Emenike, who’s joint-top scorer in the tournament so far, with three goals in four matches. The ability to let Victor Moses run loose is probably just as important.
Mali haven’t beaten Nigeria in their last four meetings with the Super Eagles in the ACN, and their form in this tournament hasn’t been too promising. They haven’t won a match since their opener against Niger, drawing with Congo DR and losing to Ghana in the group stage, still making it to the quarterfinals, drawing 1-1 with the hosts South Africa before beating them in a penalty shootout, claiming yet another spot in the Semifinal, hoping to make the finals for the first time since 1972.
Mali don’t play attractive football, and their main goal is to disrupt, playing a very tactical style, aiming to drag the match along and take their opponents out of their comfort zone. A strong and disciplined midfield is the key, but Mohamed Sissoko and Samba Diabate are a doubt for Mali with injuries, being possibly the two most important players in the lineup for Patrice Carteron, who relies on Seydou Keita for leadership.
Prediction – Nigeria are the much more talented team, but things haven’t gone easy for them. Mali know how to make opponents look bad, but don’t have the talent to win the match, not in 90 minutes. A draw and a match decided in extra time looks likely here, with Nigeria being the obvious favorites to go through.