By Fred Kaweesi in Durban
DR Congo v Mali 8pm
Niger v Ghana 8pm
FOOTBALL has been approved as the most powerful uniting force around the world.
And the Malian players here hope that will not be any different for Mali if the Eagles can squeeze their way past DR Congo today and then through to 2013 Orange Nations Cup glory.
“What is happening in Mali is more important than a soccer match but we want to bring happiness to the people. We will give everything to achieve that,” former Barcelona star Seydou Keita pointed ahead of their ultimate game against the Leopards in Group B, where all four teams including Ghana and Niger have a mathematical chance of progressing through to the next round.
Both Mali and DR Congo could top the group with victory if Ghana slip-up against Niger in the other game while the loser between Mali and Congo will still be eliminated.
A draw for the Eagles at the Moses Mabhida Stadium will be enough to take them through to the quarters as runners-ups in the group.
Unfortunately, unlike the other three sides, Mali have not psychologically prepared well for their previous games in the tournament.
Since their arrival in South Africa, Keita and teammates have spent more time tuned to news channels and phone calls to friends and relatives over the insurgency back home, where Islamic insurgents have been fighting Malian troops for greater independence over Northern Mali.
“The players have had to call their families every day. But I think they want to play football for their country,” Mali coach Patrice Carteron hinted.
French forces have since stepped in to assist fight the rebels, who are currently targeting the government-controlled regions in the south.
“Fans are watching the games at home because it’s dangerous. They are not able to go out and celebrate” Keita told the media.
The restricted outdoor celebrations in the Malian capital Bamako contradict the overwhelming support DR Congo are enjoying here from the over 8000 fans that made long trips from Lubumbashi and Kinshasa.
However, the Congolese will expect a much-improved performance from the instantly forgettable goalless draw against Niger, where newly crowned Belgium player of the year in the league Dieumerci Mbokani, Lomani Lua Lua and Youssouf Mulumbu were extremely wasteful.
Another dismal showing tonight against a Malian side clustered with match-winners such as Keita, and resilient midfield that has Momo Sissoko and Samba Diakite, could haunt them to devastating effect.
West Ham striker Modibo Maiga could start ahead of Sigamary Diarra, who was ineffective against Ghana.
Ghana took a giant stride towards the quarters after overcoming Mali 1-0 but the Black Stars, seeking their fifth Nations Cup title, are equally aware that Niger could stage an upset.
Although Ghana’s back-four was watertight against Mali, the Blackstars will surely miss suspended Espanyol defender Mubarak Wakaso, who reigned supreme in the midfield battle against Keita.
“We still have so much to offer and we can do better in our next game,” Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah stated.