Mali AFCON 2023 Preview and Predicted XI: Impressive midfield array gives Mali fear factor

Up at 51st in the FIFA World Rankings, Mali are one of the higher-ranked sides at AFCON 2023. On the other hand, they sit quite a way down the outright odds list, in what will be their 14th appearance at the finals. Let's take a deeper look at their prospects with our Mali AFCON 2023 preview…

How did Mali qualify for AFCON 2023?

Only Algeria managed to secure more points (16) than Mali (15). This saw the Eagles lose just one game and win the other five in Group G, with a stunning record of 15 goals scored and only two let in. Only Nigeria scored more, while only Tunisia conceded fewer.

On the other hand, Mali's group was significantly easier than the other heavyweights of the continent. Only South Sudan managed to score against them (a consolation in a 3-1 win) outside of their sole 1-0 loss to Gambia. In fact, even that one finish for South Sudan came via an own goal.

Mali also defeated Gambia 2-0 in the reverse fixture of that loss.

Mali AFCON 2023 preview
Credit: Ladjal Djaffar/Sports Inc – Photo by Icon sport

Mali AFCON 2023 Preview

Who will Mali play at AFCON 2023?

Although Mali had an excellent qualifying campaign, they now have a tough set of fixtures in Group E at AFCON 2023, as they meet with South Africa, Tunisia and Namibia.

Tunisia

Tunisia are favoured to finish top of Group E. The Eagles of Carthage won the tournament in 2004, but they did struggle in the last edition of the competition by finishing as one of the fortunate teams to progress by finishing third in their group.

South Africa

It's been a rough few years for South Africa. Bafana Bafana failed to qualify for AFCON in 2021 and 2017, although they managed to get to the quarter-finals in 2019. They also haven't been to a World Cup since qualifying as hosts in 2010 though, so Mali will be confident in getting all three points against them.

Namibia

Placed 115th in the FIFA world rankings, Namibia are entering just their fourth AFCON finals, and only their second since Ghana 2008. Mali will hope to and be expected to win comfortably against Namibia.

How far will Mali go?

Mali will be very disappointed if they cannot make it into the knockout rounds. The form of South Africa in recent times should not put any fear into them, while Namibia will be fortunate just to get a goal at these finals.

If they finish as runners-up to Tunisia in Group E, they will meet with the winners of Group F, which is most likely to be Morocco based on current projections. However, the Atlas Lions probably beat them there.

Mali
Credit: Ladjal Djaffar/Sports Inc – Photo by Icon sport

Mali – Predicted AFCON 2023 XI

Goalkeeper

Djigui Diarra is the main man between the sticks for Mali, and he should get his 51st cap when he meets with South Africa in their first match.

Defence

The defence is where it's at for Mali, with a handful of players playing in Ligue 1 and one in La Liga. Hamari Traoré (pictured below) is the captain and the first name on the teamsheet and continues to perform for Real Sociedad this season.

Massadio Haïdara is another player plying his trade at Champions League level with Lens, and he will likely complete the back four with Amiens' Mamadou Fofana and Falaye Sacko.

Hamari Traore of Real Sociedad
(Photo by Cesar Ortiz / Pressinphoto / Icon Sport) – Photo by Icon sport

Midfield

Amadou Haidara and Yves Bissouma make up arguably the most impressive midfield partnership at the 2023 AFCON.

And after a sensational season with Monaco, Mohamed Camara should complete the midfield trio.

Mali also have stars like Adama Traore of Hull City, Lassana Coulibaly of Salernitana, Ismalia Coulibaly of Sheffield United and Cheick Doucoure of Crystal Palace on our expected bench.

Attack

Ibrahima Koné is the first forward on the pitch with 13 goals from 16 caps, and he should feature with Sekou Koita of RB Salzburg and Atalanta's El Bilal Touré.


Avatar of Grant McQuillan
Grant McQuillan

Grant is a British sports writer based in America and was previously content head for Footy Accumulators. He has been covering football, boxing and MMA since leaving university in 2019 with a degree in Multimedia Sports Journalism.