Super Eagles of Nigeria Vs Eagles of Mali in the semi-final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa: Stage set for the battle of Eagles - The stage is set for the battle of the Eagles, when Nigeria's Super Eagles take on the Eagles of Mali, in the first semi-final of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa Wednesday.
On one side are the better known eagles, the Super Eagles of Nigeria, who are two-time African champions.
Since the kick-off the 2013 Nations Cup qualifiers, the Super Eagles under coach Stephen Keshi have maintained an unbeaten run.
On the other side are the ordinary eagles, simply called Les Aigles (The Eagles), who have been honour-starved, even on home soil when Mali hosted the African Nations Cup in 2002.
Mali played fewer matches in the qualifying series, having joined it in the third round, courtesy of featuring in the last edition in which the Super Eagles were among the glaring absentees.
At South Africa 2013, Mali lost 1-0 to Ghana in Group B and struggled into extra time before overcoming Togo.
Nigeria, like Ghana, remains unbeaten and looks likely to maintain its new found form which was exhibited in the never-to-be-forgotten clash with Cote d’Ivoire.
The unbeaten run will be further stretched Wednesday if the Nigerians overcome Mali at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
Both teams have a common denominator in Stephen Keshi, the Nigerian coach who two editions ago led Mali to the 2010 competition.
The Nigeria-Mali clash on Wednesday will be their fifth clash in the African Nations Cup history and the eighth overall, with the statistics skewed in Nigeria’s favour who had won all but one.
The only time Mali ever beat Nigeria was the friendly match that the then Green Eagles had in Bamako in preparation for the 2nd All Africa Games. Nigeria won the reciprocal leg 3-0 at the opening ceremony of the National Stadium Lagos.
Ever since, all encounters, even twice in Bamako, have been in Nigeria’s favour.
Like Nigeria did on Sunday against Cote d’Ivoire, determination will be the main driving force for Mali when it meets Nigeria.
The Malians have shown they can fight back as they did against South Africa on Saturday when they came from a goal down to eliminate the hosts.
Coach Patrice Carteron said his players have consistently shown hunger and character each time they meet big teams.
The Mali coach is still savouring the team’s semi-final berth. Now that they have beaten South Africa, Carteron said there are expectations on their shoulders to go further in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Last year, Mali finished third in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. By reaching the semi-finals, its has already replicated last year’s form.
“The task was very difficult and the expectations were very high. We always play to win. What is coming in this competition we don’t know, but what we know is that we are going to the semi-finals. From there, we will dream.
“There are some objectives for this team – for now, the players must enjoy this moment and afterwards, we will plan for the final. All the players must be physically ready. We have to prepare not only for the semi-final but for the finals of this tournament,” the coach said.
The additional impetus for the team is to bring some joy to the already troubled nation of Mali, which has been at war for some time.
Goalkeeper Mahamadou Samassa captured this most succinctly: “We believe that we can do the country proud and give our people the reason to rejoice and be happy. We have been playing well as a unit and this has worked for us. I don’t think we will change much for the semi-finals here in Durban, maybe we can correct one or two things in our game but I’m happy with what we have been doing.'