Mali plans to upset South Africa

Updated 03 February 2013
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Mali plans to upset South Africa

JOHANNESBURG: Mali plan to play party-poopers in the quarterfinals for the second consecutive Africa Cup of Nations when they confront hosts South Africa Saturday before a sell-out 60,000 Durban crowd.
A year ago almost to the day, giant striker Cheick Tidiane Diabate leveled with six minutes left to force co-hosts Gabon into extra time and a penalty shootout, won by the Malian Eagles.
South Africa, like Gabon, are favorites, despite the best efforts of coach Gordon Igesund to convince the media otherwise ahead of the only last-eight fixture that is not an all-west Africa affair.
Mali defeated South Africa 2-0 at the last-eight stage when they hosted the African football showcase 11 years ago and have won all four quarterfinals, three in regular time and one via a shootout.
That South African loss in the heart of west Africa marked the end of a great run by Bafana Bafana (The Boys) that brought gold at home in 1996, silver in Burkina Faso two years later and bronze in Ghana at the 2000 tournament.
South Africa have not passed the first round at the Cup of Nations since while Mali continue to punch above their weight, finishing third last year behind shock winners Zambia and runners-up Ivory Coast.
Home advantage, passionate support and several superb goals from unlikely sources have raised hopes that South Africa can match the team of 1996 and lift the trophy, although central defensive weaknesses are a concern.
But a Mali team desperate to bring a joyful diversion to a country battling Islamist militants are unlikely to be a pushover, especially with the cultured left boot of former Barcelona ‘super sub’ Seydou Keita in midfield.
Igesund, hoping to win the Cup of Nations just six months after inheriting the hot seat from axed Pitso Mosimane, is warier of the Malians than many supporters, who believe a home victory is inevitable.
“Mali are a talented team with very good players. They play differently from the other sides we have met so far. They like to slow things down, they like to knock the ball around.
“The Malians are all big boys. I watched them draw against the Democratic Republic of Congo and all 11 are tall. We have to use the ball well, keep it on the ground, get behind them,” stressed silver-haired Igesund.
Mali coach and former Sunderland full-back Patrice Carteron wants to follow in the footsteps of another young Frenchman Herve Renard, who guided Zambia to glory last year against massive odds.
“Everyone expects South Africa to reach the semifinals. We have nothing to lose and will try to upset the home team. Malians back home have not had much to cheer about apart from the Cup of Nations and we will be playing for them.” Malian forces backed by troops from France and other African countries in the region have been successfully pushing back the Islamist extremists, who were just a few hundred kilometers from capital city Bamako a month ago.
South Africa recovered from a woeful performance when held 0-0 by Cape Verde in the tournament opener to comfortably beat Angola 2-0 and come back twice to draw 2-2 with Morocco in one of the best matches so far at this Africa Cup.

Both Bafana Bafana goals against the Moroccans were outstanding as midfielder May Mahlangu and center-back Siyabonga Sangweni curled shots past Nadir Lamyaghri, one of the best goalkeepers on the continent.
As was the case a year ago, Mali did not impress in the group phase, taking 84 minutes to beat Niger, were lucky to lose only 1-0 to Ghana, and recovered from a sloppy start that cost a goal to draw 1-1 with DR Congo.
The winners stay in the Indian Ocean city to prepare for a Feb. 6 semifinal against title favorites Ivory Coast or Nigeria, who clash in Rustenburg tomorrow.


Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

Updated 44 min 8 sec ago
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Juan Antonio Pizzi is still the right man to lead Saudi Arabia, says former Green Falcons boss

  • Saudi Arabia's 1996 Asian Cup-winning coach Nelo Vingada backs Pizzi to lead side into next year's Asian Cup.
  • Green Falcons face Egypt on Monday with both looking to land their first point in Russia.

MOSCOW: Saudi Arabia’s 1996 Asian Cup-winning boss Nelo Vingada has called on the country’s football authorities to keep faith with head coach Juan Antonio Pizzi despite a disappointing showing in Russia.
The Green Falcons still have to face Egypt in the final match of Group A, but have already been eliminated following a 5-0 defeat at the hands of Russia in the opening game on June 14 in Moscow and a 1-0 loss to Uruguay five days later in Rostov.
 “I was expecting a little more from Saudi Arabia to be honest,” Vingada told Arab News.
“In the first game they were disappointing but a first game of the World Cup is always hard and especially when it is the first game and everyone is watching. Plenty of teams at the World Cup did not play well in the first game.
“But playing Russia in Russia and to lose is what you would normally expect from Saudi Arabia and while it was far from positive, people should not get carried away.
“The game with Uruguay was much improved in terms of organization and defense and it showed more of the character of the Saudi Arabia team.”
In the past, coaches have been axed following disappointing World Cup campaigns but with the 2019 Asian Cup just seven months away, the Portuguese tactician would prefer to see some stability rather than yet another new man in the dugout.
 “The Asian Cup is in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia will be one of the contenders,” Vingada said. “It is better to stay with the same coach. He has a vision of how he wants the team to play and he now knows the players and the players know him.”
Constant changing has not helped Saudi Arabia in the past and Pizzi himself has been in the job just seven months.
“The problem is not the coach. He should not be changed, that has happened before but results did not improve, but the mentality has to change.”
Despite that Vingada, who has coached 
Egyptian club giants Zamalek and the country’s Under-23 team, believes that the Pharaohs, also eliminated, will prevail when the two regional rivals meet on Monday in Volgograd.
 “This is an important game for pride, the players and the countries. It is still the World Cup. Egypt have a little more quality I think and have Mohamed Salah too.” 
The Liverpool striker has been recovering from a shoulder injury sustained in the Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid in late May and missed the opening game 1-0 loss to Uruguay. He played in the second game, a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Russia, scoring from the spot late in the match to earn a consolation.
“Any coach would take Salah because he can win you games but overall Egypt have been a little disappointing and a little unlucky.”
The bad luck came when conceding a last-minute goal to Uruguay and a fluke own goal to get Russia off the mark. “Uruguay are a tough team and it is no shame to lose 3-1 to a Russia team at home who are playing to qualify for the next round. It showed that European and South American teams still have a little more quality.”
 “Egypt just made some mistakes at the wrong time but this is football and without mistakes there are no goals.”
Ahead of the clash against Egypt Pizzi confirmed his intention to stay as Saudi Arabia boss, looking to build on the seven months he has had to imprint his ideas on the team ahead of the Asian Cup.