- Mali face Italy in their U-20 World Cup quarter-final
- The Eagles knocked out six-time winners Argentina
- Coach Mamoutou Kane shares his thoughts on the tournament
There is no doubt that Mali are one of the breakout performers of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Poland 2019. Although Mamoutou Kane’s charges got off to a somewhat sluggish start, drawing 1-1 with Panama, they soon got into their stride, defeating Asian champions Saudi Arabia 4-3 and giving a highly-fancied France side something to think about in a 3-2 loss.
In the Round of 16 Les Aiglons traded blows with Argentina – historically the tournament’s most successful nation – and eventually came out on top via a penalty shoot-out following a 2-2 draw.
The African champions did not enjoy the best possible conditions when they entered the competition, though, as their coach freely admitted while chatting with FIFA.com about the keys to his team’s success so far.
“My players are based in different places, in Mali and in Europe. We got together a bit late, which left us with just four days to prepare. They were happy to see each other again, but it took me a while to work out their level of form, given that we didn’t play any official friendlies. We needed those first two matches to find our feet. We started to find our rhythm again against France, and now we’ve definitely regained our desire to play and to win, which is the most important thing.”
“I told them that they should feel fortunate to be here, as lots of teams didn’t get that chance. I told them to hold their heads high, and that we would still be here on 15 June. It wasn’t easy to play against Argentina, who have already won this tournament several times, unlike us. This is the same team that won the Africa Cup of Nations at the U-17 and U-19 levels. So I said to them that good things come in threes.”
“I call them my children, but they’re really my friends. We do everything together and talk about everything together. But when I need to lay down the law, I do it firmly. Sometimes, they see on my face that I’m not happy with something. I’m very clear with them when something is not right and when I think they need to change their attitude. There’s a time for fun and a time to focus fully on a match. Every evening I collect their phones, for example, so that they don’t get distracted. They have to get some rest and act like proper athletes.”
“When my players see other teams with a better level of organisation and more resources, that impacts their pride, which pushes them to excel. What I’ve noticed is that almost all of the teams who play a high possession game have ended up going home. You have to be clinical and stick the ball in the net. I’m not very popular in Mali because people think that I don’t play with a system. But as far as I’m concerned, football is about winning matches. I would prefer to play badly and still be in the tournament than get knocked out after playing with style.”
Aiglons v Azzurrini
“Italy are a very tactical and strategic team who are capable of suffocating a game. We’ll prepare as best we can so that we go into the match as solid and unified as possible. We’re going to try to play in a way that disrupts their usual rhythm.”