AFCON 2013: Mali v Niger Preview
- AFCON 2013: Mali v Niger Preview
- Venue: Moses Mabhida Stadium, Durban
- Date: Sunday 20 January
- Kick-off: 18:00 GMT
Mali have no injury worries as they begin their 2013 Africa Cup of Nations campaign against local rivals Niger.
The Eagles, captained by ex-Barcelona star Seydou Keita, are aiming to better their third-place finish in 2012.
New Niger coach Gernot Rohr also has a full-strength squad ahead of Sunday’s Group B clash in Durban.
Niger are looking for their first win at the finals, having lost all three group matches when they made their tournament debut last year.
Mali, who were runners-up in 1972, are ranked as Africa’s third-best side behind the Ivory Coast and Algeria and look to lift the trophy for the first time.
Keita is expected to be the Eagles’ most influential player and his experience will be crucial with ex-skipper and centre-back Cedric Kante unavailable and Fulham midfielder Mahamadou Diarra ruled out by a knee injury.
Niger begin the tournament with 16 players who were part of last year’s AFCON squad, but are now led by Frenchman Rohr, who was in charge of co-hosts Gabon last time out.
Rohr’s side eliminated Guinea in the final qualifying round for South Africa, before they beat Togo 3-1 and held Burkina Faso in a goalless draw in an encouraging build-up to the tournament.
Mali midfielder Momo Sissoko said:
“We’ve had good training so right now we are focused for the tournament and we want to go far in this competition.
“It’s a good group – Ghana, Niger and DR Congo are all strong teams.”
Niger goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly said:
“Playing in 2012 has been positive and [the lessons] will be put to [good use] in South Africa.
“The objective of the entire team is different to last year. We will fight to qualify for the next round as we are better motivated now, and backed by the entire country.”