Su­per Sako up­beat de­spite Li­bre­ville pitch bat­tle

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - NJABULO NGIDI

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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.