Super Sako upbeat despite Libreville pitch battle
MALI’S STAR, Bakary Sako, is confident the Eagles will make it out of a tough Group D and into the knockout stage of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) – just as long as they master the pitch at Stade de Port–Gentil. This beautiful venue that was recently built, with a hotel in its perimeter, has a small strip of grass that is brown and dusty.
It easily came off from the punishing demands of hosting two backto-back games. The Eagles and Egypt followed after it had already taken punishment from the clash between Ghana and Uganda. Despite that, Mali showed their skilful side with Sako,
pictured, and Yves Bissouma showing their silky touches. Those touches weren’t enough to give Mali maximum points. They had to settle for a point in the goalless draw against Egypt, who were making their first Afcon appearance after a seven-year absence.
“We have a chance to get to the knockout stage,” Sako said. “This is a tough group but we are a good team. We can make it to the quarter-finals. We showed it against Egypt. We are looking forward to our next game. We played well as a team. We could have done better. But for our first game, a point against Egypt isn’t that bad. The state of the pitch wasn’t alright.
“The pitch was horrendous. It was tough to control or even go forward with the ball. You have to be focused to make the most of your possession. But it’s the same for both teams, so we can’t complain. We have to get over it. You have to make the best of this situation. We have players who can adapt to that and make the most of it.”
The Eagles have to adapt to that pitch against Group D leaders Ghana when these two nations clash in Port-Gentil on Saturday at 5pm. Egypt take on Uganda later that day at the same venue at 9pm. While Mali rely on individual brilliance and their trickery, putting a lot of emphasis on producing beautiful football, the Black Stars are an experienced unit that can also entertain with their ball players. But for Ghana, it’s about just getting the result at this stage as they try to wipe away the tears when they lost twice in the final in the last four editions. Mali threatened Egypt in set-pieces but couldn’t deliver a killer blow.
Landing that blow is an aspect they will need to improve on if they are to reach the last eight. Mali aren’t the only nation that struggled in that regard after a somewhat cagey opening round of matches where teams were still trying to assess each other. Seven of the 16 teams didn’t find the back of the net in the first round.
“Our finishing wasn’t good,” Sako said. “We should have taken more shots at goal and did better with our crosses because we looked good in the air. We will try our best to get a result against Ghana. We were a bit frustrated with that draw. ”
Njabulo Ngidi is in Gabon courtesy of SuperSport