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Preview: Mali vs. Equatorial Guinea

In Wednesday’s later Round of 16 match at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations, Mali takes on the competition’s surprise package Equatorial Guinea. Les Aigles won Group F following a routine victory over Mauritania and momentum is growing for the team to bring Malian football to the forefront with a deep run in Cameroon. Equatorial Guinea are experiencing the positive results of steadily developing a squad composed of players developed domestically as well as Spanish-born players who have built their reputation in Spanish football.

Mali head coach Mohamed Magassouba has had a long spell as the Eagles manager, and his goal in Cameroon is to prove that Mali belongs in the discussion with Africa’s top national sides. Having led the domestic-based national team to the runner-up position in Cameroon at last year’s African Nations Championship, Magassouba has high hopes of matching or improving that result with a talented European-based contingent. One member of the European-based group, Brighton central midfielder Yves Bissouma, appears to have patched up past issues with Magassouba and is back in the starting lineup while Norwegian-based striker Ibrahima Koné is establishing himself as a much needed reliable option up top for the Eagles. Expect Mali to play with plenty of energy and pace but also be aware of the fact that the center of the defense has not faced a stiff test in some time.

The 2021 AFCON has seen Equatorial Guinea navigate a difficult Group E by defeating defending champions Algeria and taking down fellow surprise team Sierra Leone to advance as group runners-up. Talented 20-year-old Deportivo Alavés goalkeeper Jesús Owono made a crucial late penalty kick save against Sierra Leone and has emerged as a shot stopper to keep an eye on, having made his La Liga debut earlier in January before leaving for Cameroon. Equatorial Guinea manager Juan Micha did not mince any words with his pre-match comments, playing up Wednesday’s encounter by reminding his team that it is a “life or death” elimination match. Central midfielders José “Pepín” Machín and Pablo Ganet are players to watch with Ganet’s penchant for scoring timely goals a potential factor. Iván Salvador Edú is the playmaker for the Nzalang Nacional and free agent captain Emilio Nsue will look to impact the game either as a starter or substitute.

Key Matchup: Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samessékou (MLI) vs. José Machín and Pablo Ganet (GNQ)

The battle in the center of midfield will determine which team is on the front foot. Haidara and Samessékou are energetic ball winners who will key to starting Malian attacks by shuttling the ball up to the team’s attacking midfielders. Ganet and Machín are technically proficient playmakers who can be frustrated by more athletic and persistent opponents, giving Mali an apparent edge that could be crucial.

Prediction: Mali 1-0 Equatorial Guinea

Mali v Equatorial Guinea – No predictions (CAF Online)
Match Facts – Mali v Equatorial Guinea (CAF Online)
Ibrahima Koné les bails (SoFoot)

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