MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) continues his African Cup of Nations analysis by looking at Group D's final encounter between Uganda and Mali.
Uganda v Mali | Wednesday 19:00 | Eurosport
Mali head coach Alan Giresse needs his side to belatedly find their scoring touch if they are to capitalise on their slim hopes of progressing from Group D at the African Cup of Nations against similarly shot-shy Uganda on Wednesday night.
Giresse's men have a solitary point to their name having drawn 0-0 with Egypt before going down 1-0 to Ghana – a result that guaranteed the Black Stars their place in the quarter-finals. To join them, Mali must beat already eliminated Uganda in Oyem and hope Ghana do not take their foot off the gas against Egypt.
Even in that scenario, the battle for second place would come down to goal difference or, in the event of Mali and Ghana both recording 1-0 wins, lots being drawn by Egypt and Mali.
The prospect of that outcome would bring about an unwelcome sense of deja vu for Mali, who were eliminated in the same manner in a hotel meeting room in Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo during the 2015 tournament.
The Eagles and Egypt drew 0-0 with each other in their first game and so if they end up locked on the same points and same goal difference, such a last resort will be required to separate them.
Results not reflecting performances
Mali’s slow start cost them against Ghana last time out but the final score could have been very different had Giresse's group taken some of the chances they created in the second half.
Moussa Marega missed two good chances with a header and a shot, and Razak Brimah superbly saved Kalifa Coulibaly's volley late on. Salif Coulibaly also drove just wide, and Hamari Traore had a 20-yard volley not far away from the top corner whilst a last-gasp appeal for a penalty turned down.
Mali have yet to score in the tournament and head into this encounter without a win in seven AFCON group games (W0-D5-L2), recording a solitary clean sheet. But they must take encouragement from their displays against the top two seeds in Group D.
The Eagles have won the shout count 27-14 across their two games against Egypt and Ghana and the shots in the box tally by 12. Mali have restricted the big guns to only five on-target attempts and conceded an average expected goals tally of only 0.56 per-game. Solid stuff.
Cranes heading home
Underdogs Uganda cruelly fell short against Egypt in their previous game, conceding the only goal of the match a minute from time. It was a result that leaves the Cranes unable to qualify for the knockout stages.
Milutin Sredojevic’s men have defended stoutly and frustrated both Ghana and Egypt in their openers but a lack of bite in the final third has cost Uganda dear. The Cranes have offered little going forward and have now failed to score in seven of their last nine outings.
Goalkeeper – and 2016 CAF Player of the Year – Denis Onyango may be bowing out of international football following this fixture and he’ll be keen to put on a show but with Uganda exiting their first finals appearance in 39 years, Sredojevic insists the aim is to at least register a goal (and win).
The betting angle
A more attacking approach should lead us towards a decent final group fixture in the competition and I’d fancy Mali to take advantage of Uganda’s more open style on Wednesday night. The cash has come for the Eagles already but backing Mali -0.75 on the Asian Handicap line at 10/11 (188BET) still appeals.
We’ll make money should Mali win – a half-stakes profit should the Eagles clinch victory by exactly one-goal and a full-stakes profit if Mali bag a win by two or more goals. Remember, they must triumph by at least two goals to stand a serious chance of progression.
Uganda v Mali – Mali -0.75 Asian Handicap (10/11 188BET)