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Underdogs Mali face biggest match in 30 years

© Reuters 2002

By Brian Homewood

BAMAKO, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Hosts Mali, who have brought a touch of romance to the African Nations Cup, play their biggest match for 30 years on Thursday when they take on title-holders Cameroon in their semi-final.

Mali, who have invested an estimated $100 million to stage the tournament, were tipped for an early exit after dismal performances in the run-up to the tournament.

Instead, under Polish coach Henryk Kasperczak who was appointed only four months ago, they have surprised even themselves by reaching the semifinals after a convincing 2-0 win over South Africa.

A win on Thursday will put them in the final for the first time since their only previous appearance in 1972, when they lost 3-2 to Congo.

"The team has been getting better with each game," said Kasperczak. "They are a young side who are still learning but the self belief and experience is growing each day.

"We have played some really good football in this tournament and shown a lot of confidence," he added.

First, however, they have to break through a Cameroon defence which has not conceded a goal in 360 minutes of play in the tournament.

The Indomitable Lions have a 100 percent record although three of their four wins have been by a 1-0 scoreline, courtesy on each occasion of a goal by Parma striker Patrick Mboma.

Mboma went off late in the quarter-final against Egypt with a knock after earlier scoring the winner but insisted he would be fit to face Mali. If he is fit, Cameroon will again by at full-strength.

Mali are the only one of the four semifinalists who are not heading for the World Cup in Japan and South Korea in June.

Thursday's other match pits Nigeria against Senegal - both of whom, like Cameroon, have yet to concede a goal. Nigeria goalkeeper Ike Shorunmu, who was stretchered off in the first half of Sunday's 1-0 quarter-final win over Ghana after colliding with one of his team-mates, is expected to be fit.

Otherwise, neither team has any injury or suspension worries. Despite their progress, Nigeria media have been thoroughly dissatisfied with their team's performances, grilling coach Shaibu Amodu after each match and demanding to know why they are not winning by more goals.

In an angry exchange on Sunday, Amodu replied: "It doesn't matter if we win 1-0 or 10-0, we are in the semi-final."

Reports provided by

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