Mali – Why Don’t we win anything?
After that period, in which it seemed that they were destined to play an important role in African football, Mali went into the doldrums between 1972 and 1994 before rekindling fans’ hopes by qualifying for ACN 1994 and reaching the semi-finals, where they lost to Zambia. Five years later, in 1999, Mali came third in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria with a team including Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita, who was named player of the tournament, and Mahamadou Dissa, who was second-highest scorer with five goals.
These young players led to high hopes for Mali’s prospects as hosts of ACN 2002, yet once again they fell at the semi-final stage, this time losing 3-0 to Cameroon in Bamako. Following on from the successful third-place finish at the World Youth Championship in Nigeria, Mali fans were given a further boost when players such as Frederic Kanoute, Mohamed Sissoko and Djimi Traore, among others, decided to declare for Mali in 2004, despite having been born in France. Kanoute, Sissoko and Traore were born on the outskirts of Lyons, Troyes and Laval respectively and had even played for France at youth level before opting to represent Mali.
The trio’s international debut against Kenya in ACN 2004 could not have gone better: Mali ran out 3-1 winners with a brace from Kanoute and one from Sissoko.
One year later, in July 2005, the president of the Malian FA, Tidiane Niambele, was defeated at the association’s extraordinary congress by the legendary Salif Keita, who became the country’s top football official. Keita has a difficult task ahead of him, which includes resolving the paradox of Malian football, which possesses one of the biggest pools of talent but has underachieved at international level, a similar case to Spain in Europe or Colombia in South America.
“For some years now it has been said that, on paper, Mali have one of the best teams on the continent. If that is the case, why don’t we ever win anything?” enquired Malian Prime Minister Ousmane Issoufi Maiga a few weeks ago. For Mahamadou Diarra, the midfielder signed by Real Madrid from Lyon for GBP 17.5 million, the reason why the Eagles have yet to take to the skies is that they have yet to blend their prodigious individual talents into a team. “On paper, we have the same quality as Cote d’lvoire or Nigeria, but to triumph we need to gradually get to know each other better and play as a team,” says the Real Madrid player. Whereas Diarra is compared to Claude Makelele, particularly since he has been at Real Madrid, where the Frenchman also played, Sissoko is said to be the new Patrick Vieira.