The road to New Zealand
Mali qualified for the FIFA U-20 World Cup finals by topping their group ahead of the more fancied Ghanaians and South Africans at the 19th CAF African U-20 Championships. They were the only team to win all three matches in the group phase of the competition. Although they were stunned 2-1 in the semi-finals by the hosts Senegal and then lost the play-off for third place 3-1 against Ghana's Black Satellites, les Aiglons du Mali achieved their goal by ensuring another appearance at the U-20 World Cup finals.
Strengths and style
In the group phase, Mali's success was built on their strong back-line, in which goalkeeper Sory Ibrahim Traore was particularly impressive. The 19-year-old, who like his idol Manuel Neuer interprets the goalkeeping role to include playing like a libero when needed, leaked just one goal in the three group games. He was superbly assisted by Aboubacar Doumbia and Youssouf Kone, who occupied the two defensive flanks. Coach Fagnery Diarra will be somewhat concerned about the goalscoring abilities of his team though, as the six goals from five matches in Senegal was the lowest tally of the African qualifiers for New Zealand.
Malian international Fagnery Diarra, slipped straight into coaching after hanging up his boots in 1991. Formerly in charge of Malian club Djoliba, Diarra has also previously coached his country's U-20 side.
FIFA U-20 World Cup record
- This is Mali’s sixth appearance at the FIFA U-20 World Cup.
- The west Africans finished third in 1999 – the only time they have managed to escape the group phase.
- Mali's last victory at the finals dates back to 2003 when they beat Uzbekistan in their opening group game. Since then, they have lost six matches matches and drawn two.
What they said
“We will not be going to New Zealand as tourists. We are going there with the honor and pride of representing our continent. We want to do well.”
Youssouf Kone, Mali defender