Mali’s road to 2019 U-20 AFCON Glory
How did Mali make U-20 AFCON their tournament?
Mali’s claimed continental glory in the U-20 AFCON finals against Senegal, beating the Senegalese (3-2) on penalties. The road to victory was modest but nonetheless entertaining and well orchestrated. This is how they became the champions of Africa!
Road to the Finals
Senegal v Mali
Senegal was the stronger of the two teams in the encounter, dismissing Mali 2-0. Mali’s opener fell short of the team’s potential; they failed to create chances. The lack of defensive rigor in the match led to Senegal netting two late goals.
Mali v Burkina Faso
Mali needed a win against Burkina Faso to keep them in the running for the title. A 52nd-minute goal from Mamadou Traore gave Mali a narrow 1-0 victory. Burkina Faso went on to lose 5-1 to Senegal, finishing last in group B.
Mali v Ghana
The final group match for Mali was played at Stade General Seyni Kountche in Niamey. Mali humbled Ghana to a 1-0 defeat, to qualify for the semi-finals. Hadji Drame scored in the second-half, dashing Ghana’s hopes of qualifying for the U-20 FiFA World Cup.
Semi-Finals (Nigeria v Mali)
Mali’s battle against the Flying Eagles of Nigeria promised to be tightly contended. Nigeria won group A with seven points ahead of South Africa. The game was played to a 1:1 stalemate, taking the game to extra time and the dreaded penalties. Mali won the ensuing penalties (3-4) sending the Flying Eagles packing, setting up a final with three-time runner ups Senegal.
It was that simple yet, how Mali managed to upstage the seven other teams in this tournament might be elusive to some.
The secret behind Mali’s success
The strategy of Mali’s head coach was to play a defensive game. This style of play worked for Mali when it was needed the most. Although there are strong critics who argue that Mali’s play is too defensive, the national coach, Mamoutou Kané "Mourlé" found a strategy that delivered the championship.
Mali’s squad had eight players from the squad that won the U-17 AFCON in 2017. The dynamics of having more than two-thirds of experienced tournament winners who had already worked successfully as a team was an added advantage. A standout player who was part of the U17 AFCON winning team, Red Bull Salzburg forward Sekou Koita was the one of the more experienced in Mamoutou Kané’s squad.
Mali, along with Senegal, Nigeria and South Africa, will play in the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup finals in Poland, commencing on the 23rd of May all through to 15th of June. Mali has proven that they have what it takes to win tournaments on the continent, the challenge will be to replicate their success on the world stage. Fingers crossed they continue to make history.