Mali fans worried over Africa Cup of Nations squad

By Martin VoglBBC Sport, Bamako
Samba Diakite of Nancy
Samba Diakite of Nancy is among Mali's 27 players for the Africa Cup of Nations

Analysts and fans have given a worried reaction to the preliminary squad named by Mali for next month's African Cup of Nations.

Coach Alain Girresse named a 27-man squad which will be whittled down to 23 players before the competition begins on 21 January.

"In my opinion this is the weakest team that Mali has ever sent to the competition," says Baba Cissouma, sports correspondent for the BBC World Service's French for Africa service.

"It's true we've got a lot of injured players, a lot more than usual," admits Cheickna Demba, President of the Association of Independent Supporters.

Among the injured are experienced defender Adama Coulibaly of French side Auxerre, who has been left out of the selection.

Named in the squad, but carrying injuries, are midfielder Kalilou Mohamed Traore of Odense and France-based defenders Drissa Diakite and Amadou Sidibe.

On top of the injuries, Mali still has the problem of a number of big stars refusing to play for the team.

Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute and Mohamed Lamine Sissoko of PSG have both indicated that they are not available for selection.

Another of Mali's best players, Mahamadou Diarra, was not chosen because he has been without a club this season so has played no competition games.

On the up side, Barcelona star Seydou Keita, who only returned to the national team in October, will play for the Eagles in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

"Seydou's return helped a lot during qualifying," says Baba Cissouma.

"When he returned, Mali still had two qualifying matches to play. The team had to win or draw. With Seydou there, the whole style of play changed."

The Mali squad is due to fly to the Togolese capital Lome on 11 January where they will prepare for the competition.

The Malian Football Federation says at least one friendly match will be organised for the team during the stay in Lome but has yet to confirm who the opponent will be.

Mali will contest Group D at the finals alongside Ghana, Botswana and Guinea.

At the 2010 Nations Cup, Mali failed to exit the group stage of the tournament - prompting the federation to hope for better in 2012.

Supporters' President Cheickna Demba believes that the Eagles will get there.

"We don't have many well-known players, but I still think we can be competitive," says Demba.

"What we need to do is have good wins over Guinea and Botswana and play well to hold Ghana to a draw."

Mali will play their group matches in Franceville before moving to Libreville for their final clash against Botswana on 01 February.

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