Preview: Burkina Faso vs. Mauritania 14hrs / Mali vs. South Africa 20hrs
By Joshua Cole
The sun-drenched Stade Bouake prepares for a Group D battle as Burkina Faso and Mauritania face off in Tuesday afternoon’s opening clash.
Looking to build on their impressive recent record, the Stallions, semifinalists in two of the last three Africa Cup of Nations, aim to emulate their 2013 run to the final, while the Lions of Chinguetti will have their sights set on recording their first-ever win at the tournament.
Often considered AFCON dark horses, Burkina Faso have reached the semifinals or final in three of the five editions within the last decade.
After reaching the 2013 final, a group stage exit followed in 2015 and they missed the tournament altogether in 2019.
Their route to Ivory Coast was not smooth sailing, with three consecutive qualifying victories followed by a frustrating winless streak in their final three games. Nonetheless, they held on to top spot in the group ahead of Cape Verde, Togo and Swaziland.
Under Hubert Velud, a seasoned African football coach, Burkina Faso are tipped to finish among the top two in Group D alongside Algeria, a group that also includes Angola and Mauritania.
On the pitch, the Stallions head into the tournament on a positive note, having won three of their last five matches across all competitions, including a 2-1 triumph over DR Congo in their final warm-up game. However, in-fighting within the football association could be a potential stumbling block.
Having met in a friendly as recently as October 2023, Burkina Faso boast two wins and a draw from their four encounters with Mauritania, but this will be their first-ever meeting at the AFCON.
Securing a positive result in the opening match is crucial, as it could prove decisive in the battle for the top two spots, especially if Algeria dominate the group as expected.
Mauritania have qualified for three consecutive AFCONs since 2019, but are yet to win a game at the tournament.
However, scraping past Sudan and Gabon to reach Africa’s biggest football event demonstrates their grit and determination, making them a team not to be underestimated.
Overcoming past challenges, including sanctions after withdrawing from the 2010 qualifiers, Mauritania have recently made significant strides off the pitch, which have translated into improved results on the field.
With the impressive AFCON debut of Comoros under his belt, Mauritania’s coach Amir Abdou sets his sights on guiding the Lions of Chinguetti beyond the group stage.
While a goalless draw with Tunisia in their final warm-up game might offer a sliver of encouragement, Abdou will be more concerned by the lack of goals in their last three matches.
Coach Velud has named a squad of 27 players, with an estimated 11 set to make their AFCON debut.
Having scored 17 goals in 74 appearances for his country, Aston Villa’s Bertrand Traore will look to quickly recover from an injury to lead Burkina Faso’s charge to win its first-ever major tournament.
Bournemouth’s Dango Ouattara is another player to watch out for, as his partnership with Cedric Badolo has blossomed.
For Mauritania, coach Abdou announced a 27-man squad for the tournament, packed with well-known names like captain Aly Abeid, TP Mazembe midfielder Ibrahima Keita, former Guingamp defender Guessouma Fofana, Hemeya Tanjy and the recently retired Bakary N’Diaye, who has been recalled to the national team.
Keep an eye on winger Aboubakary Koita, who opted to represent Mauritania in 2023, spurning the chance to play for Belgium or Senegal. The prolific scorer has netted an impressive 11 goals in just 20 Jupiler Pro League appearances for Sint-Truiden this season.
Burkina Faso possible starting lineup:
Konate; Tapsoba, Dayo, Nagalo, Guiebre; Blati Toure, Aziz Ki, Guira, Sangare; Ouattara, Badolo
Mauritania possible starting lineup:
Niasse; Keita, El Abd, N’Diaye, Abeid; Gassama, Bouna,Thiam; Mahmoud, Tanjy, Koita
Mali and South Africa kick off their quest for glory in the Africa Cup of Nations
when they go head to head at the Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium on Tuesday evening.
Both sides have been drawn in Group E of the continental showpiece and will contend with Namibia and 2004 champions Tunisia for a place in the knockout stages.
Having enjoyed a superb qualifying campaign, Mali are set to make their 13th appearance in the Africa Cup of Nations, including a ninth on the bounce since missing out in 2006.
Only Nigeria scored more goals than Les Aigles during the qualifying phase (15) as they picked up five wins and lost just one of their six games to collect 15 points and finish as Group G winners with a five-point cushion over second-placed Gambia.
Mali journey to Ivory Coast as the nation to have played the most AFCON games (54) without ever winning the tournament, with their best finish coming in 1972, when they finished as runners-up after losing 3-2 against Congo.
The West African nation head into Monday’s group opener unbeaten in each of their last seven matches across all competitions — claiming six wins and one draw since June 2023 — a run which sees them sit second in Group I or the World Cup qualifiers.
Mali turned in a performance of the highest quality in their warm-up friendly two Saturdays ago, when they cruised to a 6-2 victory over Guinea-Bissau at the Stade du 26 Mars.
Eric Chelle’s men will be backing themselves to carry on with that momentum and get underway in Ivory Coast on a high as they take on a South Africa side who they have gotten the better of in their two previous AFCON meetings.
Both victories came in the quarter-finals — first in 2002 when they were beat the Bafana Bafana 2-0 at the Venue Stade Abdoulaye Nakoro Cissoko and most recently in 2013, when they claimed a 3-1 win on penalties after a 1-1 draw in extra time.
Making their 11th AFCON appearance, South Africa are returning to the tournament for the first time since 2019, having failed to secure a place in Egypt two years ago.
Hugo Broos’s side reached the quarter-finals back in 2019 — their joint-best result since a third-placed finish in 2000 — before suffering a 2-1 defeat at the hands of West African rivals Nigeria.
The Bafana Bafana enjoyed a decent qualifying campaign as they picked up seven points from four matches to finish second in Group K, two points behind group winners Morocco and six above rock-bottom Liberia.
South Africa, who are currently 66th in the latest World Ranking, have won the AFCON title only once, which came in 1996, when they beat Tunisia 2-0 in the final as host nation.
They head into Monday’s group opener on a run of just one win in their last five matches across all competitions, losing once and claiming three draws, including a goalless draw against Lesotho in their final warm-up fixture last Wednesday.
While South Africa will be looking to begin their AFCON campaign on a high, they will have to show their mettle against a Mali side who have never lost an opening game in the competition, claiming seven wins and five draws since their debut in 1972.
Injury-hit Mali will have to cope without several key players, including the likes of Atalanta BC forward El Bilal Toure, Crystal Palace man Cheick Doucoure and Southampton forward Moussa Djenepo.
Doucoure has been sidelined since having surgery on his Achilles tendon injury back in December, while Toure has been out of action since last August through a severe thigh injury.
Nonetheless, Chelle has named a solid squad for the AFCON finals, with the likes of skipper Hamari Traore, Salzburg forward Sekou Koita and the midfield trio of Amadou Haidara, Diadie Samassekou and Tottenham man Yves Bissouma headlining the team.
There are also a few new faces in Les Aigles’ squad, including Saint-Etienne’s Ibrahim Sissoko, Lorient forward Sirine Doucoure and 28-year-old goalkeeper Aboubacar Doumbia.
As for South Africa, skipper Ronwen Williams is currently dealing with a slight knee problem, while Mamelodi Sundowns man Mothobi Mvala recently picked up a groin injury.
While both players are being monitored, they have travelled to Ivory Coast, alongside the 23-man squad featuring the likes of Themba Zwane, Sundowns midfielder Teboho Mokoena and 29-year-old Percy Tau.
Tau, who plies his trade with Egyptian outfit Al-Ahly, has 15 international goals to his name and is the most experienced player in the Bafana Bafana squad, having made 42 appearances since his debut in October 2015.
Mali possible starting lineup:
Diawara; H Traore, Niakate, Fofana, Sacko; Haidara, Coulibaly, Bissouma; M Doumbia, Sissoko, Koita
South Africa possible starting lineup:
Mothwa; Mudau, Xulu, Sibisi, Modiba; Mokoena, Sithole; Lepasa, Zwane, Tau; Mayambela
Other fixture.. Namibia Vs 17hrs