The past
Turkey 2013 will be the fifth time that Mali have made it to the finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Their best performance to date was in 1999, when a 19-year-old Seydou Keita inspired the west Africans to third place. The midfielder, who became the first African winner of the Golden Ball award that year, scored the winning goal in Mali's 1-0 play-off victory against Uruguay. En route to the semi-finals the team had knocked out fellow Africans Cameroon and the hosts Nigeria. That was, however, the only time that the team has advanced to the knock-out stage. Two years ago in Colombia they finished bottom of their group without scoring a goal or securing a point.

The present
After beating Rwanda and Zambia to qualify for the African U-20 championships, the Malians started the tournament with a morale-boosting 1-0 victory against the defending champions Nigeria. A victory against the DR Congo in their next game saw them become the second team after Egypt to book their ticket to the showpiece event of youth football. A penalty shoot-out defeat against Ghana in the semi-final and a loss against Nigeria in the third-place play-off saw Moussa Keita's side finish fourth. His squad includes several foreign-based professionals, with Guingamp striker Tiecoro Keita and Bastia's Abdoulaye Keita among the most influential players.

The future
Moussa Keita, whose team will face Mexico, rookies Greece and Paraguay in Turkey, is confident that his team can continue to improve after a solid showing at the African finals in Algeria. He said that while their ultimate goal had been to lift the trophy, he the team had showed grit to qualify for the World Cup finals. "I am satisfied with the results and the work my team has got from this tournament. For a first experience with an U-20 side to qualify for the semi-finals and the World Cup is something fabulous. We look forward to building on the positives."