Mali ensured qualification from Group B yesterday, and will face Bafana on February 3 at Moses Mabhida Stadium.
In 2002, The Eagles beat South Africa 2-0 on home soil, coincidently enough on February 3, with second-half goals from Bassala Touré and Dramane Coulibaly.
South Africa had started as one of the tournament favourites, but failed to score in their first two matches, against Burkina Faso and Ghana, playing a defensive formation and relying on quick counter-attacks.
The team conceded just once in the group stage – a penalty against Morocco, who they beat comprehensively 3-1, with goals from Sibusiso Zuma, Thabo Mngomeni and Siyabonga Nomvete, to inject hope back into their campaign.
South Africa dominated the first half of that quarter-final, although they lost their grip on the game in the second, and were punished for missed chances as Mali took hold of the game.
The defeat, which cost coach Carlos Queiroz his job, was the last time South Africa made it to the quarter-finals.
The South Africa line-up for that match was: Hans Vonk, Mbulelo Mabizela (Bradley August 86), Bradley Carnell, Pierre Issa, Aaron Mokoena, Eric Tinkler, Thabo Mngomeni, Quinton Fortune (Delron Buckley 73), Siyabonga Nomvete (Shaun Bartlett 66), Sibusiso Zuma, Benni McCarthy.
The only survivors of the Mali squad from that tie are defender Adama Coulibaly and captain Seydou Keita, who are likely competing at their last Nations Cup.
Bafana will be looking to overturn that 2002 result in only the second meeting between the two countries, after a less than convincing 2-2 draw against a defiant Morocco.
If Bafana are to make it past the Eagles they will have to put in a much improved display against a side who will want to build on their third place showing at last year’s finals in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Gordon Igesund could be tempted into making a change or two to ensure that a repeat of South Africa’s first half performance appearance against Morocco does not happen; a possible starting berth for Kagisho Dikgacoi or Reneilwe Letsholonyane could be on the cards to offset Mali’s physically imposing midfield.
On a more positive note fans will be looking forward to the midfield battle between Dean Furman and Seydou Keita. Igesund will also have to decide on who will replace Anele Ngcongca at left-back, who will be unavailable for selection owing to suspension, with a likely starting place for Siboniso Gaxa, or possibly Thabo Matlaba.
The returning Lehlohonolo Majoro will also be making a case for selection (or at the very least coming off the bench) after the front pairing of Tokelo Rantie and Katlego Mphela failed to score against the Atlas Lions.
But the biggest concern going into Saturday’s game will be Bafana’s central defensive pairing of Siyabonga Sanweni and captain Bongani Khumalo. Both failed to impress – bar Sangweni’s late equaliser – in the Morocco game, whether missing important tackles or being caught out while playing the high line, the cracks are there for all to see.
With four days to go to the biggest game in Bafana’s recent history, Igesund will be hoping he can correct the issues plaguing the heart of his defence and lead his team into the semis.