- Mali struck late to beat Saudi Arabia in a seven-goal thriller
- Koita and Kone, both late arrivals at Poland 2019, played crucial roles
- Saudis had never seen the two in action before
Usually arriving late in football is not a good thing, whether it’s for a training session, a tackle or a pass. Malian duo Sekou Koita and Ibrahima Kone showed on Tuesday that a lack of punctuality can have its advantages, even in a World Cup.
“We really missed them in our opening game,” said Mali coach Mamoutou Kane after his side had secured a dramatic 4-3 win over Saudi Arabia.
“We struggled at times in the first match because our forwards weren’t able to press the player on the ball in the same way that they did. They played crucial parts in today’s win because the Saudis didn’t know anything about them.”
Koita was involved in three of Mali's four goals, which included setting up Kone for an equaliser in the 54th minute and creating the match-winner with his skill down the left side followed by a pinpoint cross.
Better late than never
The reason the Saudis were unaware of what the two strikers offer was because they were still on domestic duty for their respective clubs when the tournament got under way.
“I wanted to be there to represent my country but Wolfsberger needed me for a match that was vital to their hopes of qualifying for the Europa League,” said Koita, who scored a stoppage-time winner for the Austrian club in that game before travelling to Poland and playing an equally important role against the Saudis.
Kone, who was in action for his Norwegian club FK Haugesund, was raring to go when he finally joined the Mali squad. “I was so frustrated when I watched the opening match that I came here determined to do all I could to help my team-mates,” he said.
Coach Kane made sure their youthful enthusiasm was channelled towards a very specific objective.
“We watched the Saudis very closely on video,” said Kane. “We noticed that they always try to play the ball out of defence and that they don’t hit it long. The best solution, then, was to press them like we did.”
So how do they see Mali’s final Group E game, against France, going?
“No problem. We’ll beat them too,” joked Kone before heading off to join the party in the dressing room.
Did you know?
Koita scored twice in Mali’s run to the final at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, the country’s best ever performance in a world finals. He has since earned six full international caps, scoring once.