Either Oumar Sissoko or Soumbeila Diakite will start in goal. Both are ok, but neither of them are anything special. There is a theme across the whole Mali squad in that most of the players are all big physical units with great stamina. Molla Wague of Udinese is the main standout star at the back and should offer plenty of security. Their other options aren’t particularly eye catching but should be solid enough. Hamary Traore & Ousmane Coulibaly will probably start in the fullback positions whilst Salif Coulibaly, who is based in Africa could partner Wague in the middle. It’ll be a no-nonsense approach from Mali at the back and they should be very strong in the air. Maybe they could be vulnerable to some of the more skillful players who have that extra bit of class though.
The spine of the Mali team is generally very strong and central midfield is possibly it’s best area. The likes of Yacouba Sylla, Sambou Yatabare & young Bastia talent Lassana Coulibaly are all big beasts who will duel with anyone in the middle of the park. Adama Traore is one to watch from a creative point of view, but he’s rather become a benchwarmer at best with Monaco this season so might be lacking match practice and proper sharpness. The most valuable Malian player in the transfer market is officially left winger Bakary Sako and the Eagles will hope that the Crystal Palace man can produce the goods. Upfront, Moussa Marega looks set to lead the line and he’s one to watch. The Porto player is on loan at Vitoria Guimaraes and scoring for fun this season. He could be an outsider for the golden boot should Mali go deep into the tournament.
Draw & outlook
Mali have often gone well in the African Nations Cup this century. They’ve twice finished third and on another occasion grabbed fourth. They will be a solid, if not spectacular side who could be quite hard to beat. Coached by the highly experienced Alain Giresse, I’d expect them to mostly line up in a 4-3-3 formation. The Eagles are in Group C which could prove to be one of the tightest around. It includes Ghana and Egypt, two big teams who could be strong, but also who might flatter to deceive. The supposed ‘weak’ team in the group Uganda won’t progress but could realistically sneak a draw or two which would cause issues to the three fancied teams. I could see Mali maybe drawing a couple of games and winning a tight match 1-0 or something which might be enough to progress. If Mali qualified I wouldn't be surprised. They are the sort of team who would go all the way to penalties in a knockout match. But with Ivory Coast possibly awaiting in the quarter finals, that would probably be as far as they go. I do however think they are a dark horse who could go deep in the competition if things fall their way and they enjoy a bit of luck.
Group prediction: 2nd
Overall prediction: Quarter final elimination