Hamari Traore: ‘Mali must do better in 2019’
Mali international defender Hamari Traore says his country must perform better at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations than in their last two appearances in the tournament.
Mali finished third in 2012 and 2013, but their last two campaigns in 2015 and 2017 ended in a group stage exit.
Unbeaten as they sealed qualification for next year's event, Traore, 26, insists his country's players have the talent to improve their fortunes at the continental showpiece event.
"We must now think beyond this qualification and start focusing on how to do better than at the last two tournaments," Traore told BBC Sport.
"Our preparation starts with the last qualifying game against South Sudan in March - we will play without pressure in front of our fans.
"In the team we have have talented individuals and collectively only a great performance will help us get way beyond our previous Nations Cup performances."
The Eagles have never qualified for the Fifa World Cup or won the Africa Cup of Nations despite being runners-up in 1972 - losing 3-2 to Congo in the final in Cameroon 46 years ago.
Having played in all their matches as they ensured a seventh successive qualification, Traore who can play at both right-back and left-back, believes Mali have sufficient firepower to compete against the top teams in Africa.
"Other teams like Egypt, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon have top players but we also have players who play in top leagues all over Europe," he added.
"We cannot worry too much about the other countries, we let them worry about Mali instead by focusing on ourselves.
"There are several teams with great qualities and performances are very high in Africa.
"But we can always compete against the best teams and the plan will be to keep fighting to do better than them."
Traore was part of the Mali squad at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations and played 66 times for French club Reims scoring four goals before switching to rivals Rennes last year.
He has played 23 matches for Rennes in all competitions this season with the club ninth on the Ligue 1 table and involved in the Uefa Europa League, French Cup and Coupe de la Ligue.