Final round-of-16 clash of the Africa Cup of Nations sees Mali and Equatorial Guinea go head to head at the Limbe Omnisport Stadium on Wednesday.
The National Thunder are capable of causing a few upsets following their impressive group stage run, while the Malians will be seeking to move one step closer to conquering the continent for the first time in their history.
Mali will be delighted with their run at the Africa Cup of Nations so far and will hope this will be the year they end their wait for continental glory and walk away with the title.
The West Africans got their campaign underway on January 12 when they claimed a hard-earned 1-0 win over Tunisia courtesy of a 48th-minute penalty from Ibrahima Kone.
This was followed by a 1-1 draw with Gambia in Limbe four days later before securing a comfortable 2-0 victory over Mauritania in their group finale last time out.
The game was off to a flyer inside the opening two minutes when Massadio Haidara broke the deadlock before Kone grabbed his third goal of the campaign in the 49th minute to make sure of the result and cap off a dominant team performance.
With seven points from three games, Mali secured smooth entry to the round of 16 after finishing top of Group F, level on points with runners-up Gambia and four above Tunisia, who qualified as one of the four best third-placed sides.
Mohamed Magassouba’s side head into Wednesday’s game without a knockout-stage win since 2013, when they saw off South Africa on penalties after a 1-1 draw in extra time.
However, they will feel confident of ending this dry spell and making it to the last eight as they go up against an opposing side they have defeated in each of the last three meetings between the sides.
Equatorial Guinea’s Pablo Ganet celebrates scoring their first goal with teammates on January 20, 2022
Equatorial Guinea, on the other hand, have proven capable of causing a few upsets at the tournament after a fine group-stage run where they picked up six points from three games to finish second in Group E.
After an opening-day 1-0 loss to Ivory Coast on January 13, Juan Micha’s men stunned reigning African champions Algeria to a 1-0 victory courtesy of Esteban Orozco’s 70th-minute strike when the sides met four days later.
Equatorial Guinea wrapped things up in the group stages with a 1-0 victory over Sierra Leone when Pablo Ganet scored a 38th-minute winner at the Limbe Omnisport Stadium.
They head into Wednesday’s game unbeaten in all but one of their last eight outings in all competitions, claiming five wins and two draws, and will look to keep their fairy-tale run at the tournament alive and kicking.
Kone has scored in each of Mali’s opening three games — albeit all from the penalty spot — and we expect the 22-year-old forward to spearhead the attack once again.
Moussa Djenepo is back available for selection after missing the game against Mauritania through suspension for picking up a second consecutive yellow card in the game against Gambia on January 16.
With that said, we expect the Southampton midfielder to return to the fold and team up with Adama Traore and Brighton & Hove Albion man Yves Bissouma in midfield.
Meanwhile, Dorian Hanza is a doubt for Equatorial Guinea after the 20-year-old forward was hooked off with a 75th minute injury against Sierra Leone last time out.
Following a solid defensive display in their last two outings, we expect Micha to name an unchanged back four on Wednesday, meaning we could see Basilio Ndong, Saul Coco, Estaban Orozco and Carlos Akapo shielding Jesus Owono between the sticks for the third game running.
Mali possible starting lineup:
Mounkoro; Haidara, Kouyate, Sacko, Traore; Haidara, Camara, Bissouma; Djenepo, Traore, Kone
Equatorial Guinea possible starting lineup:
Mbara; Akapo, Coco, Orozco, Ndong; Salvador, Ganet, Machin, Buyla; Siafa, Nsue