By Lorraine Ruto,
Mali host South Sudan in Bamako today, as the two sides are launching their 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Group C qualifying campaign.
Runners-up of the 1972 edition of the continental showpiece, the Eagles are eyeing a sixth consecutive AFCON finals appearance after earning a first round exit to a drawing of lots with Guinea at the latest tournament in Equatorial Guinea.
National coach Alain Giresse, who has resumed his second spell at the helm of Mali, had to review his plans in the absence of several key players due to injuries, including Molla Wagué, Tongo Hamed Doumbia, Sigamary Diarra, Fousseyni Diawara, Mustapha Yatabaré, Abdoulaye Diaby and Cheick Tidiane Diabaté.
The former Gabon and Senegal boss will however be able to count on Samba Sow, Cheibane Traoré, Cheick Fantamady Diarra and Abdoulaye Sissoko, who are making their return to the Eagles, and decided to strengthen his back line with 24-year-old Dijon FCO defender Ousseynou Cissé.
Despite the absences, Mali will be hot favourites to claim the full points against the continental minnows, who are yet to taste victory since their first official outing in July 2012.
It will be the South Sudanese’s second attempt to reach the prestigious African competition, after falling 5-0 on aggregate to Mozambique in the first round of the previous qualifying campaign.
“I don’t know our opponents,” Giresse admitted at a press conference.“We are focusing on our own qualities to prepare for that match. We are improving our collective, the way we play in the different compartments of the game.“We are preparing to win the match. We have nothing else in our mind.”
On the other hand South Sudan coach Lee Sungjea is buoyant ahead of the game which he belives will be a turning point for South Sudan.
“We respect Mali as a very tough team but lets remember the pressure will be on them and not South Sudan as we go to the match as underdogs.The boys are looking good and we will let the 90 minutes decide the winner of the game and not the history of the team.We are trying to build a formidable team but offcourse it will take time but the results will be seen”he said
South Sudan who are ranked 197th in the latest FIFA ranking lost 2-0 to Kenya in an invitational tournament in Rwanda dubbed Genocide Commemoration cup .
S.SUDAN LAST 3 GAMES
Kenya 2-0 South Sudan
South Sudan 0-0 Mozambique
Mozambique 5-0 South Sudan
The game will kick off at Bamako’s Stade du with Equatorial Guinea hosting Benin in Malabo in the other Group C fixture.