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Mali – The Eagles Ready For Take-Off At Last

For years, Mali has been producing talent that has set European football alight. Stars such as Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita, Mohamed Sissoko or Frederic Kanoute are more than capable of taking their country to its first FIFA World Cup™.
Mali have always lived in the shadow of the other big African teams. While Cameroon, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and more recently Senegal, Cote d’lvoire and Togo have all shone, the Eagles — as they are nicknamed — have always had problems getting off the ground. However, there is now burgeoning hope in this football-mad country with a population of 11.5 million thanks to a blend of players who grew up in Mali, such as Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid) and Seydou Keita (Sevilla), and French-born footballers who declared for the country where their parents were born, such as Frederic Kanoute (Sevilla), Mohamed Sissoko (Liverpool) and Djimi Traore (Portsmouth).
The whole of Mali is dreaming of a World Cup debut in South Africa in 2010, a place and a year that are ripe with symbolism for this West African nation. For the first time, the FIFA World Cup™’ will be staged in an African country, which provides an extra incentive for teams from that continent to qualify for the tournament. Furthermore, 2010 will be a particularly special year for Mali, which will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of both its independence and the creation of a football association in the former French colony.
In their 47-year history, the Eagles have yet to soar to great heights. They have never qualified for the World Cup and have only taken part in the African Cup of Nations (ACN) finals on four occasions, in 1972, 1994, 2002 and 2004, although they have always performed well, reaching the final in one tournament and the semi-finals in the other three.