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Mali target Africa Cup quarters as Group D wraps up
Mali and even Botswana, thrashed 6-1 by Guinea, go in search of a place in the quarter-finals as Wednesday's Group D games brings down the curtain on the Africa Cup of Nations first round.
The group is on a knife edge with any of the four teams - leaders Ghana and second-placed Guinea clash in Franceville at the same time - still in contention to progress.
What is certain is that if Mali win, irrespective of the result up in Franceville, they will go through. Botswana need to win by a cricket score and pray Guinea thrash competition favourites Ghana to give them any chance.
Mali, coached by former Gabon boss Alain Giresse, are aiming to pick themselves up after a 2-0 loss to Ghana on Saturday, that came on the back of an opening 1-0 win over Guinea, Bakaye Traore's first half goal earning them the points.
In the aftermath of the Ghana defeat Mali skipper Cedric Kante said they have not given up hope of reaching the quarter-finals of the tournament.
"We still have our destiny in our hands as it is now down to our last game against Botswana," said the Greece-based centre half.
"We did not fight, we were not daring and we did not ask questions of the other team."
He has extolled the virtues of team unity.
"We need to continue to play as a team. A team who depend only on individual players will fail, but a team who are united and play for each other, will always win."
Even if qualification is all but a distant dream Botswana will be desperate to draw a line under their record-equalling loss to Guinea and restore their battered pride.
The coach of the Nations Cup first-timers, Stanley Tshosane, said: "We have to accept this and continue with our mission.
"We are a small nation - it's not an excuse - with limited professional players compared to other teams here. We are sorry to our fans.
"No one did us any favours for us to get here. We worked to get here so Mali will have to work hard for what they want."
"I have spoken to the team and I told them we cannot reverse what has happened, but we have to continue with our mission here."
Mali's goalscorer against Botswana, midfielder Traore, believes he and his teammates did not put up their best performance against Ghana.
"We were not afraid of Ghana, but we did not play to our potentials. We were not aggressive, but this match is now in the past and we have to forget it and focus on our next match against Botswana."
Hosts in 2002, Mali's best performance was when they made it to the final in 1972. They have made it to the semi-finals three times since then, in 1994, 2002 and 2004.
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