République du Mali / ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ / Renndaandi Maali / جمهورية مالي / Republic of Mali
- Capital: Bamako
- Population: 20,250,900 (2020 estimate)
- Official Languages: French
- National Languages: Arabic, French, Fulani, Mandinka
- Men’s Team Nicknames: Les Aigles (The Eagles)
- Women’s Team Nicknames: Les Aiglonnes (The Female Eagles)
- Association: Fédération Malienne de Football (FMF)
- Top Male Domestic League: Malian Première Division
- Top Female Domestic League: Malian Women’s Ligue 1
- FIFA Code: MLI
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Not Qualified
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best AFCON Result (Men): Runners-Up (1972)
- Best AFCON Result (Women): Fourth Place (2018)
- Best CHAN Result (Men): Runners-Up (2016, 2020)
- Best Olympics Result (Men): Fifth Place (2004)
- Best Olympics Result (Women): Not Qualified
- Best WAFU Nations Cup Result (Men): Semi-Finals (2019)
- Best WAFU Zone A Nations Cup Result (Women): Runners-Up (2020)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 23rd (June 2013)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 62nd (July 2003)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 117th (October 2001)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 118th (August 2013)
- Most Capped Player: Seydou Keita – 102 caps
- Top Scorer: Seydou Keita – 25 goals
Introduction & Brief History
The Republic of Mali / République du Mali / ߡߊߟߌ ߞߊ ߝߊߛߏߖߊߡߊߣߊ / Renndaandi Maali / جمهورية مالي is a large landlocked country in the western Sahel region of West Africa. It is the eighth-largest country in terms of size within Africa and naturally has a number of countries with whom it shares a land border. Mali has Algeria to its north (with the border running through the southern Sahara), Niger to the east, Burkina Faso to the southeast, Côte d’Ivoire to the south, Guinea and Senegal to the southwest, and finally Mauritania to the west. The country was named after the monumentally rich Mali Empire which controlled most of sub-Saharan West Africa during the fourteenth century and was heavily involved in historical trans-Saharan trade. During the era of colonisation, Mali was seized by France and became French Sudan/Soudan, which was a colony within French West Africa. Thankfully, the country regained its independence away from France in 1960 as the Mali Federation (which included Senegal), before becoming the Republic of Mali of today’s borders when Senegal withdrew from the federation in 1961.
Football was introduced by the French to French Soudan in the early twentieth century, with the first organised leagues being established in the 1930s. Throughout the post-war French colonial times, Malian sides such as Jeanne d’Arc du Soudan and Foyer du Soudan would compete locally in domestic tournaments like the Bamako League and the Coupe du Soudan, as well as against other teams around French West Africa, often in the French West African Cup. The first match for a national team representing Mali was played a few months before their declaration of independence from France in June 1960. In April of the same year, a Malian side defeated the Central African Republic by a scoreline of 4-3 at the neutral venue of Madagascar. The Malian Football Federation (Fédération Malienne de Football or FMF) was also founded in 1960 to organise football within the new country, with them becoming members of CAF in 1963, and then FIFA in 1964.
Traditionally, Mali was a country that had a modicum in international competitions. In all the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournaments held in the twentieth century, Mali only qualified for two of them. Their first appearance was in the 1972 edition of the tournament, when despite drawing all of their group games, they beat Zaire (now DR Congo) 4-3 after extra time in the semi-finals to reach the final in their debut appearance. Sadly, they were unable to lift the trophy, losing 3-2 to the Republic of Congo in the final – the nearest they have ever come to winning an AFCON tournament so far. It would be another 22 years before Les Aigles appeared in their second continental tournament, qualifying for the 1994 AFCON. Once again they would progress beyond the group stage and beat Egypt in the quarter-finals to reach the semi-finals. Sadly, a heavy 4-0 defeat to Zambia ended their final hopes, and they finished in the fourth position after a 3-1 defeat to Côte d’Ivoire.
However, since the turn of the millennium, Mali has become regular qualifiers to the AFCON competition and has failed to qualify for only two editions (2000 and 2006). They achieved a couple of consecutive fourth-place finishes in 2002 (a tournament which they hosted) and 2004, maintaining Mali’s 100% hit rate for reaching the semi-finals up to that point. Since 2008, they have qualified for every AFCON tournament (and will be playing in the upcoming tournament in early 2022), although they have often failed to match the achievements of their first four AFCON appearances by failing to progress beyond the group stage. Nevertheless, their best period of success at a senior level came in the early 2010s when Mali accumulated two consecutive third-place finishes in 2012 and 2013, beating Ghana on both occasions after originally losing to them at the group stage, marking their best performances since their tournament debut in 1972. In their most recently played AFCON played in 2019, Mali progressed beyond the group stage by winning their group ahead of Tunisia, Angola, and Mauritania to reach the last 16, but were unable to progress any further after getting defeated by Côte d’Ivoire by the game’s only goal.
- CAF’s Highlights of Mali vs. Mauritania at the 2019 AFCON: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KDDmssa3to
Mali has yet to qualify for a senior World Cup, strangely only completing their first World Cup qualification campaign for the 2002 edition having either not entered or withdrawing from previous qualification schedules. In spite of that, they have achieved some excellent results and performances at the youth levels. The first sign that Mali’s fortunes as a football nation were set to improve in the twenty-first century was the performances of their under 20s team that reached the semi-finals of the 1999 U20 World Cup. Topping the group ahead of Portugal, Uruguay, and South Korea, they beat Cameroon and Nigeria in the knockout stages to reach the semi-finals. Despite a 3-1 defeat to Spain in the last four, a 1-0 victory over Uruguay confirmed their impressive third-place finish. They repeated the feat in 2015, progressing out of the group as one of the best-placed third-place finishers before overcoming Ghana and Germany (on penalties) in the knockouts. Alas, an extra-time defeat to eventual winners Serbia foiled their final aspirations, but a 3-1 defeat of Senegal confirmed another third-place finish.
- FIFA’s Highlights of Mali vs. Germany at the 2015 U20 World Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZrP8cUKEog
2015 would be a great year for Malian youth football in the World Cups. Not only did they achieve a third-place with their under 20s as previously mentioned, but their under 17s did even better. Finishing above Ecuador, Belgium, and Honduras, victories over North Korea, Croatia, and Belgium (again) confirmed their place in a World Cup final. Sadly, their dream of lifting the title was halted in the all-African final as they lost 2-0 to Nigeria. They confirmed their position as one of the best youth teams in the world two years later when the Malian under 17s reached the semi-finals once again. Finishing second in their group behind New Zealand, they defeated Iraq and Ghana in the knockouts before losing 3-1 to Spain in the semis. Sadly, they were unable to clinch a third-place finish by losing the playoff 2-0 to a talented Brazil squad. Nonetheless, these two results confirmed that Mali had a potential “golden generation” of players that were scheduled to progress into their senior national team.
- FIFA’s Highlights of Mali vs. Spain at the 2017 U17 World Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ny-Hnq970Ps
Mali’s long wait for qualifying for a senior World Cup may be coming to an end as many of those young players who had performed so admirably for the under 17s and 20s squads slowly advance into the full national team. They impressively progressed to the final round of African qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, and should be considered as one of the favourites to win their upcoming two-legged playoff and finally compete on football’s biggest stage. Could this be the start of Mali finally becoming Africa’s top team? Les Aigles look set to soar high!!
Mali National Team
Q. Who is Mali’s best player of all-time?
Arguably, Mali’s best-ever player is one who had a very successful career where he played for a number of Europe’s best sides, as well as accumulating a record amount of caps and goals for the national team – the versatile defensive midfielder, Seydou Keita.
Keita started his professional career at French giants Olympique Marseille where he made only six appearances for the senior side, before moving to Lorient in 2000. During his two-year stay with the Breton club, he helped Les Merlus gain promotion to Ligue 1 and starred in the midfield of the famous side that won the 2002 Coupe de France final. He then joined Racing Club de Lens in 2002, where he made over 150 appearances for Les Sang et Or over a five-year stay at the Pas-de-Calais-based club and eventually became their captain, before leaving French football for Sevilla in a €4m transfer fee in 2007. During his brief stay in Andalusia, he was an automatic first-choice in midfield as he won the 2007 Supercopa de España and was runner-up in the 2007 UEFA Super Cup with the Blanquirrojos, whilst helping them to finish in fifth position for the La Liga season. Naturally, his performances attracted the attention of some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and after a season in Seville, he moved to the northeast of Spain and to giants FC Barcelona for €14m.
- Highlights of Keita’s Best Moments in La Liga: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5qyifdMfSk
Keita was part of the Barça squad which dominated both the domestic and European football scene. He won three La Liga titles, two Copas del Rey, and three Supercopas de España during his time at the Camp Nou, whilst coming off the bench in the successful 2009 and 2011 UEFA Champions League finals. He would further add UEFA Super Cups and FIFA Club World Cup winning medals in the same years also. After a trophy-ladened four years at Barcelona, where he made nearly 120 appearances for the Blaugranes, he joined the Chinese football revolution by joining Dalian Aerbin (now Dalian Pro) in 2012, where he was reportedly being paid €14m annually. Keita returned to Spanish football in 2014 with a brief spell at Valencia, before moving to Serie A and Roma, where the veteran midfielder played two seasons and made nearly 50 appearances for the Giallorossi. After a final season with Qatari Stars League side El Jaish, Keita retired from playing in 2017 at the age of 37.
Seydou Keita first came to attention in international football as part of the successful Malian under 20 squad that finished third in the 1999 FIFA U20 World Cup, where he scored the winner against Uruguay to confirm Mali’s third place in the tournament and was named Player of the Tournament. He made his senior international debut in April 2000 in a 2002 World Cup qualifier against Libya, and scored his first international goal in December 2001 in a 1-1 friendly draw with Ghana. During his fifteen-year spell in the Malian national team, he played in six AFCON tournaments with Les Aigles and was part of the 2012 and 2013 squads who achieved two consecutive third-place finishes. Keita was also named in the AFCON Team of the Tournament for four of the six he played in, including the 2012 and 2013 tournaments previously mentioned. He made his final appearance for the Malian national side in the 2015 AFCON tournament, in a 1-1 draw with Guinea which agonizingly saw him miss a penalty in the first half, and Mali failing to progress beyond the group stage – a sad conclusion to a spectacular international career. During his successful time with the national team, Keita made 102 appearances and scored 25 goals, making him the most capped player (and only Malian player to have accumulated over 100 caps) and highest goalscorer in Malian international history.
- CAF’s Highlights of Mali vs. Guinea in the 2015 AFCON tournament: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHOuuwosCwc
Interestingly, perhaps the best player ever to come from Mali never actually played for the Malian national team but was a crucial player as part of France’s iconic team of the 1980s – Jean Tigana. Born in Bamako to a Malian father and a French mother, he played for the French national team throughout the 1980s, during a very successful period for Les Bleus. The tireless and pacy box-to-box midfielder was part of the iconic foursome who dominated France’s midfield during that period and one of the most successful in international history, with himself, Michel Platini, Luis Fernandez, and Alain Giresse (who also managed Mali on two separate occasions in 2010-12 and 2015-17) being part of “Le Carré Magique” (“The Magic Square“). Known for his tireless stamina, he was often responsible for the team’s defensive duties but would also be an important part of creating opportunities for his teammates through this expansive range of passing, which made Tigana an excellent distributor of the ball. His contributions in attacking phases, especially through defensive splitting passes, were often a hallmark for the world-class midfielder.
Tigana started his professional career in the southern city of Toulon, with whom he spent three years between 1975 and 1978 before making the move northwards to Olympique Lyonnais. He would spend another three years at OL making over 100 appearances for the Rhône-Alpes-based side before making a $4m transfer to Bordeaux in 1981. Tigana spent eight very successful years at Les Girondins by making over 250 appearances whilst winning three Ligue 1 titles and two Coupes de France during his time at the Aquitanian club. He would also win the French Player of the Year award in 1984, as well as being the runner-up in the same year’s Ballon d’Or award, whilst helping Bordeaux to the semi-finals of the European Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985 and 1987 respectively. He returned to the Mediterranean coast in 1989 to join Olympique Marseille and continued adding to his medal collection by winning two consecutive Ligue 1 titles. Tigana was also part of the squad that reached the final of the 1991 European Cup but ultimately lost on penalties to Red Star Belgrade. Sadly, he was never brought off the substitutes bench in the final and it would be his final game involved as a player as he retired from playing football that summer in 1991.
However, he is most known globally for his performances with the French national team with whom he made 52 appearances for Les Bleus between 1980 and 1988. He was an important part of the famous French side that was victorious on home soil when they won the 1984 European Championships – the first major international trophy France had won in their history. Tigana provided the assist, with a trademark defensive splitting pass, for the decisive late second goal in a 2-0 final victory over Spain. He was also part of the buccaneering French squad that reached third place in the 1986 World Cup, playing in all seven games during the campaign, with his only international goal coming against Hungary during the group phase of the tournament, and was ultimately named in the World Cup All-Star Team. Unfortunately, his international career petered out beyond the 1986 World Cup as he earned only another five caps for France, and two beyond 1986, with his final international appearance coming in November 1988 in a 3-2 defeat to Yugoslavia in the disappointingly unsuccessful 1990 World Cup qualifying campaign, curiously under the management of his Carré Magique teammate, Michel Platini.
Since retiring from playing football, he has had a decent managerial career, winning a Ligue 1 title with AS Monaco in the 1996-97 season and leading them to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League the following year. He famously managed Fulham at the turn of the millennium by getting them promoted to the English Premier League in 2001 and safely keeping them in the league the following season with a thirteenth place finish. Tigana later won cups with the Turkish side Beşiktaş in the mid-2000s, clinching a couple of Turkish Cups and a Turkish Super Cup. Sadly, Tigana has not managed a club since 2012 after his last major job was a brief period managing the Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua. He was most recently appointed as the General Manager of his first club SC Toulon in February 2021.
Q. Who is currently the best player in the national team?
The best player in the current Malian national team is the 23-year-old central midfielder Amadou Haidara, who is currently applying his trade in the German Bundesliga with RB Leipzig. The capital-born player started his career with JMG Academy Bamako before taking a well-trodden path for talented young African players by joining the Red Bull Salzburg football academy in 2016. He had first caught the attention of Red Bull’s scouts following his stellar performances with Mali’s U17 squad which reached the final of the 2015 U17 World Cup, before eventually losing to Nigeria 2-0 in the final. During that historic campaign, Haidara scored two goals, with strikes against Honduras in the group stage, and North Korea in the Round of 16.
- FIFA’s Highlights of Mali vs. Honduras in the 2015 U17 World Cup: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvBf_TQvN1s
Haidara first gained some experience in European football when he was loaned out to RB Salzburg’s feeder club, FC Liefering in the Austrian 2. Liga, making 25 appearances and scoring two goals. He then cemented his position into the first team at Salzburg for the 2017-18 season, making 55 appearances in all competitions, whilst scoring 8 goals and 10 assists with Die Roten Bullen, as the side reached the semi-finals of the Europa League. During his time in Austria, Haidara picked up two Austrian Bundesliga titles, as well as an ÖFB Cup winners’ medal.
Naturally, his performances in Austria attracted the attention of Salzburg’s sister club in Leipzig and made the regular in-house switch northwards in the 2019 winter transfer window. Initially, his opportunities at Leipzig were limited during the 2018-19 season, but he has steadily become a firm fixture in the Saxon side’s midfield as they attempt to win the Bundesliga for the first time, whilst trying to also try to produce an impact on European competition. Amadou Haidara played the majority of the club’s matches as they reached the semi-finals of the 2019-20 UEFA Champions League but was an unused substitute in the losing semi-final to Paris Saint-Germain.
In the past couple of seasons, Haidara has been a near-permanent presence in the RBL starting XI with his athleticism, passing vision, and penchant for successful attacking dribbles being a boon to Leipzig’s midfield. Last season, he played in nearly all of Leipzig’s games played throughout the season, missing only two league games and a further two UCL games due to contracting COVID-19, and has continued that run of games into this season by playing in the first eleven league games and five UCL group games before an ankle injury ended his run of appearances. Naturally, because of his performances with the German side, he has been heavily linked with a potential move to Manchester United in the upcoming transfer window, linking up with former Red Bull director of football, Ralf Rangnick, who is in interim charge at Old Trafford.
As mentioned previously, he was an integral part of the Malian U17 side that made it to the 2015 U17 World Cup final, before making his senior international debut in October 2017 in a 2018 World Cup qualifier against Côte d’Ivoire. Since his debut, he has made 27 appearances for Les Aigles and scored two goals (at time of writing). He played in all four games in Mali’s 2019 AFCON campaign which saw them reach the last 16 before being dispatched by Côte d’Ivoire, and also saw Haidara score his first international goal against Angola in the group stage. With Mali having qualified for the upcoming AFCON tournament, it is highly likely he will be named in the squad and will be expected to play in his second continental competition this winter.
- CAF’s Highlights of Mali vs. Angola in the 2019 AFCON: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIbIau8j9iM
Q. Who could be considered as the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
There are a number of talented young Malian players, who have recently broken into the national team, that could be worth keeping an eye on in the next few years to see whether they fulfill their potential. Here are four players to focus on:
- Mohamed Camara – 21-year-old defensive midfielder currently at Austrian Bundesliga champions Red Bull Salzburg. He originally started his career at Real Bamako before joining the Red Bull academy process in 2018, by first joining RB Salzburg’s feeder club FC Liefering in the Austrian 2. Liga, and gaining further experience on loan at TSV Hartburg before moving upwards to Salzburg in 2020. Having been an ever-present factor in Salzburg’s midfield this season in both domestic and UEFA Champions League campaigns, he is expected to be the next big talented African prospect to come from the Red Bull production line that will make a big impact in European football. Camara made his international debut in October 2019 in a 2-1 friendly loss to South Africa and has currently earned ten caps and scored one goal for the Malian national team.
- El Bilal Touré – 20-year-old centre-forward who currently plays for French Ligue 1 side Stade de Reims. Having been born in Côte d’Ivoire, he initially came through the Ivoire Académie before moving to the Malian side Afrique Football Élite in 2016. He would later move to France and Reims in 2020 with the striker breaking into Les Rouges et Blancs‘ first team in same year. Having scored seven goals in fifteen appearances for the U20 squad, he made and scored in his Malian international debut in September 2020 in a 3-0 friendly match against Ghana. At the time of writing, he has made nine appearances for the senior team, and scored two goals.
- Cheick Doucouré – 21-year-old defensive midfielder currently with French side RC Lens. The Bamako-born player started his career in the successful JMG Academy Bamako, playing for Real Bamako, before moving to Lens’ academy in 2018. He started his career with Lens II before being promoted to the senior side in the same year, becoming an established player in the side whilst they competed in Ligue 2 and then maintaining his place when they eventually got promoted and became an established team within Ligue 1. He is currently one of the first names on Lens’ team sheet and has played in nearly all of their league games this season. Doucouré made his international debut in November 2018 as an 18-year-old in a 1-0 victory against Gabon, and has made eight appearances for the national team although he hasn’t been called up for the national team since June.
- Moussa Sissako – 21-year-old left-sided centre-back currently playing for Belgian side Standard Liège. Born in the Paris suburb-town of Clichy, Sissako was a product of Paris Saint-Germain’s academy where he played for PSG’s B team, but made no appearances for the senior team, before moving across the border to Standard in 2020 for €400k. He was in the starting XI at the start of the season but has seen appearances restricted to coming off the substitutes bench most recently. He made his international debut in October 2021 in the 5-0 victory over Kenya as a substitute, before playing the full ninety minutes in his second cap against Uganda in November.
Q. What is the current state/performance of the Malian national team?
The results of the Malian national team in 2021:
- 24th Mar [2021 AFCONQ]: Guinea (a) 0-1
- 28th Mar [2021 AFCONQ]: Chad (n) 3-0 [result awarded due to Chad’s disqualification]
- 6th June [Friendly]: Algeria (a) 0-1
- 11th June [Friendly]: DR Congo (n) 1-1
- 15th June [Friendly]: Tunisia (a) 0-1
- 1st Sept [2022 WCQ]: Rwanda (n) 1-0
- 6th Sept [2022 WCQ]: Uganda (a) 0-0
- 7th Oct [2022 WCQ]: Kenya (n) 5-0
- 10th Oct [2022 WCQ]: Kenya (a) 1-0
- 11th Nov [2022 WCQ]: Rwanda (a) 3-0
- 14th Nov [2022 WCQ]: Uganda (n) 1-0
The current state of Malian football is in a very good position despite not being able to play any home games in the country due to a combination of the ever-fluctuating political situation within Mali, and currently not having any stadiums that have been endorsed by CAF to host any further international fixtures due to reported poor stadium maintenance. Mali is currently one of the best-improving teams within African football and has rapidly risen up the FIFA World Rankings within the past couple of years. At the time of writing, Mali is the ninth-best team within CAF, and is only three places away from breaking into the Top 50 in the world. Certainly, the filtering of the famous U17 World Cup finalist team into the senior national team is helping with results, as is the situation that many Malian players (or Malian-qualified players who may transfer their international allegiance to Mali in the near future) are now playing for some of Europe’s biggest teams. Whilst the continuous amount of players originating from youth academies established in the country and subsequently and successfully progressing into European teams ensures that the future is looking incredibly optimistic for future Malian squads and their potential successes.
Mali managed to top their difficult AFCON qualifying group ahead of Guinea, Namibia, and Chad to qualify for the upcoming African continental tournament. There they have been drawn in a favourable-looking group alongside Tunisia, neighbouring Mauritania again for the second AFCON in a row, and the Gambia as the second seeds in the group, and will certainly fancy their chances of progressing to the knockout stages ahead of Mauritania making only their second AFCON appearance and the debuting Gambia sie. Considering their form in the second half of 2021, they can also be considered an outside bet for potentially lifting their first African title. In their 2022 World Cup qualifying group, they achieved an almost perfect group having traversed a potentially tricky group involving Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda to stay undefeated and earn sixteen points from a possible eighteen available to comfortably qualify for the final round of the World Cup qualifying. The most impressive stat is that they achieved progression to the playoffs without conceding a goal in their six group games!!
- FIFA’s Highlights of Mali vs. Kenya in the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdyNUUml0QI
Obviously, their defense is their strong point as they have managed to grind out 1-0 victories in three of their group games, meaning they’ll be a team most clubs will want to avoid in the Third Round playoffs. Should their defense maintain their rigidity throughout the two legs, and they are able to gain further momentum from a strong showing at the AFCON tournament, then you would have to seriously back Mali to finally qualify for their first senior World Cup. With the amount of talented young players progressing into their senior national team, in all sectors of the pitch, Mali should be rightfully expected to become a major force within African football for the next decade!
Q. Looking at Mali’s international history, what has been the best game, result, or performance for the representative team?
Unquestionably, looking at Malian football as a whole, the best performance from a Malian team was in the 2015 U17 World Cup where the U17 squad topped a group ahead of Ecuador, Belgium, and Honduras, and then beat North Korea, Croatia, and Belgium again in the knockout stages, to reach the final of the global youth tournament. Sadly, they were unable to lift the trophy by losing the all-African final 2-0 to fellow West Africans, Nigeria, but impressed everyone with the talent in their squad as well as overcoming traditionally strong countries along the way. However, the above question normally focuses upon the senior team, and so Mali’s most successful period with its senior team came during two consecutive AFCON tournaments in 2012 and 2013.
- FIFA’s Highlights of the All-African 2015 U17 World Cup Final: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbTlujeEME8
Initially, Mali was fortunate to actually qualify for the 2012 AFCON when they only progressed ahead of Cabo Verde because of their superior goal difference in their head-to-head performance with the island nation. Under the management of former French international Alain Giresse, they finished second in the group phase behind Ghana, but ahead of an impressive Guinea squad and Botswana. Fortune favoured them once again in the quarter-finals when a late equaliser from striker Cheick Diabaté against co-hosts Gabon ensured the game progressed to a penalty shootout. Les Aigles held their nerve against Les Panthères, with the co-hosts hero Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missing the only penalty of the ten taken to ensure Mali progressed to the semi-finals. In the semi-finals, they came up against a Côte d’Ivoire who were enjoying their ‘golden generation’ and despite a nervy and close encounter against Les Éléphants, they finished on the wrong side of a 1-0 scoreline. However, they concluded their tournament with a flourish when they avenged their group defeat by beating Ghana 2-0 in Malabo through a Diabaté brace to confirm a third-place finish and achieve Mali’s best AFCON finish since 1972.
Mali confirmed their fourth AFCON tournament qualification in a row in 2013 when they beat the previous year’s group opponents Botswana with a 7-1 aggregate victory. Under the manager of French coach Patrice Carteron, they were drawn in a tough group alongside Ghana once again, as well as DR Congo, and Niger. Despite another loss to Ghana in the group stage, a 1-0 win against Niger and a 1-1 draw with DR Congo was enough to progress to the knockouts once again as group runners-up. In the quarter-finals, it would be a repeat of the previous year’s tournament as Mali overcame the hosts via a penalty shootout. This time drawing 1-1 with South Africa with Seydou Keita getting the equaliser before a shocking showing in the spot-kicks from Bafana Bafana ensured Mali progressed with a 3-1 win in the shootout. The semi-finals saw Mali take on a very impressive Nigeria and they were thoroughly outclassed by the eventual winners by losing 4-1 to the Super Eagles with striker Cheick Fantamady Diarra getting the sole consolation goal. Fate has a weird way of often making history repeat itself and it would be apparent for this third-place playoff as the opponent was Ghana again, with the result following the same narrative as the previous year’s match. Mali overcame Ghana once again with goals from the forward Mamadou Samassa, Seydou Keita, and midfielder Sigamary Diarra confirming a 3-1 victory, a second consecutive third-place finish in the AFCON, and formalising Mali’s position as one of Africa’s best teams.
Q. What is your favourite shirt from the Malian national team?
The Malian national team has had a number of superbly designed shirts throughout the years, especially since the turn of the millennium. However, my favourite shirt is probably the white away shirt that they wore during the 2019 AFCON tournament. The kit supplier Airness has designed a number of national shirts that have the tricolor of the Malian flag emblazoned across the front of the shirts. However, they improved upon that design by adding an eagle design in 2017, which was then amended slightly for the 2019 edition of the shirts. I am torn between whether I like the 2017 or 2019 shirts more, but I think the 2019 version slightly edges it for me because of the grey camouflage-style pattern in the shirt which gives it a more unique look.
All in all, the 2017 and 2019 versions are both superb shirts and I prefer the white away shirts to their yellow home equivalents which used the same design as their respective away shirts.
Malian Domestic Football
Q. What is the Malian football pyramid like?
At the time of writing, the Malian football pyramid only seems to have just two levels:
- Tier 1 – Première Division
- Tier 2 – Division 1
The top tier league in the Malian football pyramid is the Malian Première Division (MPD) (officially known by the sponsored name of Ligue 1 Orange Mali) which was first founded in 1966.
The number of teams in the MPD has fluctuated throughout the seasons from 14 teams in the 2007-08 season, 16 teams in the 2012-13 season, 18 teams in 2017, and finally to 23 teams for the 2019-20 season. Currently, there are 20 teams who compete in the MPD with the league split into two groups of ten teams – Pool A and Pool B, with each club playing every team in their ‘pool’ twice to produce just an 18-game league season. The top two placed sides from both Pools then compete in a four-team championship group, where they play each other twice, with the winner of the championship group being declared as the Malian champions. The Malian champions then qualify for the following season’s CAF Champions League, where the champions enter the continental competition at the first qualifying round. Normally the bottom two teams in both groups are relegated to Ligue 1, and replaced by the best four performing teams in the second-tier.
The main national cup competition is the Coupe de Mali, and its first final was held in 1961 with Stade Malien being the inaugural winner of the national cup. The winner of the Coupe will qualify for the following season’s CAF Confederation Cup (Africa’s secondary continental club competition), and enter at the first qualifying round stage.
Q. Which Malian teams are historically the most successful?
These are the number of titles each Malian club has won since the first season was held in 1966:
- 23 titles: Stade Malien
- 22 titles: Djoliba AC
- 6 titles: AS Real Bamako
Despite the league first being organised in 1966, there have been only three winners in the history of the Malian Première Division, with all three league winners coming from the Malian capital of Bamako – Stade Malien, Djoliba AC, and AS Real Bamako.
At the time of writing, the most successful team in the MPD’s history is Stade Malien who has won 23 league titles in their history. The club was formed in 1960 through a merger between Jeanne d’Arc du Soudan (from whom Stade Malien’s white kits originate from) and Espérance de Bamako. Despite playing its games in the Stade 26 Mars, located in the centre of the capital, the club traditionally represents the Sotuba neighborhood of the east of the city. Most of Les Blancs‘ championships have come after the turn of the millennium with eight league titles arriving before 2000, including three in a row between 1993 and 1995. Since the year 2000, they have won fifteen league titles, winning seven in eight seasons between 2000 and 2007, and including another four consecutive titles between 2013 and 2016. They are the current Malian champions having won the 2021 title after successfully defending their trophy having won the league the previous season also.
With 19 titles is the other member of the “Grand Derby“, the biggest derby in Malian football, Djoliba AC. The club was also formed in 1960 through its own merger between Africa Sport and Foyer de Soudan, who were two successful teams during French colonial rule, and takes its name from the Bamana translation for the River Niger which flows through the Malian capital. They were winners of the first three editions of the MPD, and were especially successful during the 1970s where they won six titles during the decade, including four in a row between 1973 and 1976. Many critics of Djoliba (especially those fans of Stade Malien) claim they benefitted in their position as the top club in Mali in the 1970s because of their close links with the military dictatorship which ran the country at the time. The club’s second successful period came in the 1990s when they claimed another six championships including another four consecutive titles between 1996 and 1999. Since the turn of the millennium, they have only won another four MPD titles, with their last championship victory occurring in 2012.
The third team to have won a Malian league title is Real Bamako who has claimed six championships in its history. The Scorpions were the first team other than Djoliba to win the Malian league when they claimed their first championship in 1969, and would add another four titles in the 1980s including a successful double in 1980 and 1981. Their last championship was all the way back in 1991 meaning that Malian football has been a duopoly in terms of the championship since then. However, despite the lack of title victories this century, they are known for being one of Mali’s best sides within the league and having an excellent academy, of which a number of its players have progressed to top European sides.
Below are the number of Coupes de Mali that have been won by each team since the first final was held in 1961:
- 21 cups: Stade Malien
- 19 cups: Djoliba AC
- 10 cups: AS Real Bamako
- 3 cups: Cercle Olympique de Bamako
- 2 cups: Onze Créateurs de Niaréla
- 1 cup: AS Bamako, AS Sigui, US Bougouni
The most successful team in the Coupe de Mali is naturally Stade Malien also who has won 21 national cup finals. Unlike their history when it comes to the league, most of Le Stade‘s cup victories came before the millennium, with only an additional five cups won after 2000. They were the very first winners of the Coupe when they beat rivals Djoliba 2-1 in a replay after drawing 3-3, but the vast majority of their cup haul came between 1982 and 1999 when they claimed ten Coupes during that period, including three in a row between 1984 and 1986. Les Blancs are the defending cup holders having overcome Binga FC in the 2021 final, beating their Bamako-based opponents by a scoreline of 3-2 to achieve a domestic double-winning season. Despite losing the final, Binga FC still qualified for the 2021-22 CAF Confederation Cup as Mali’s representative in the continental competition.
The second most successful cup team is Djoliba AC with their 19 national cup victories. Eight of their nineteen Coupe trophies came during their golden period of the 1970s, having won seven consecutive national cups between 1973 and 1979. Since 2000, they have won a further five Coupes, including three cup final victories in a row between 2007 and 2009, with the latter cup being the last time the Malian giants won the national cup competition. In the 2009 final, they beat their big rivals by a single goal. Whilst the third most successful club in the tournament’s history is Real Bamako who has 10 national cups to their name. The vast majority of their cup victories came in the 1960s where they won six of their national cups, including winning the second-ever Coupe de Mali final in 1962. They added further cups in 1980, 1989, and 1991, with their last cup final win coming in 2010 when they beat Centre Salif Keita 2-1.
The most recent ‘new’ winner of the Coupe de Mali is AS Onze Créateurs de Niaréla, who also play in the Stade 26 Mars in Bamako. Although they have yet to win the league title, they managed to claim their first national cup in 2014 by beating Djoliba by a single goal, before adding their second cup a couple of years later in 2016. On this second occasion, they had to overcome USFAS Bamako on penalties after a goalless draw to lift the trophy once again.
Malian clubs are yet to win a CAF Champions League (CCL) title, although they were involved in the first two finals of the competition’s history. Stade Malien was the first Malian club to appear in a CAF-organised tournament final when they reached the first CCL final in 1965. Sadly, they were unable to overcome the Cameroonian side Oryx Douala when they lost 2-1 in the single-legged final held in Accra. Real Bamako would replicate the feat of their city rivals when they reached the 1966 CCL final, but sadly experienced the same outcome. In the first two-legged final, they managed to win the first leg in Bamako 3-1 but suffered a mirrored performance in the return leg in Abidjan against Ivorian side Stade d’Abidjan. With the aggregate score level at 4-4, the game went into extra time but their opponents scored the decider three minutes from the end of extra time to ensure Real Bamako lost 4-1 on the night, and 5-4 on aggregate.
Malian clubs have had more success in CAF’s secondary continental cup competition, the CAF Confederation Cup (CCC). Stade Malien created Malian club history when they became the first club from the country to win a continental title as they claimed the 2009 edition of the tournament. Facing Algerian side ES Sétif over two legs, they started badly when they lost the away fixture 2-0, but managed to replicate the scoreline for the positive in the second leg by beating their opponents by the same scoreline. With the aggregate score at 2-2, the winners had to be decided by a penalty shootout, and it would be the Malians who were more lethal from twelve yards by winning the dual by a 3-2 scoreline to finally lift the trophy.
Djoliba also reached a CCC final when they managed to get to the final two of the 2012 edition of the tournament. Facing off against Congolese side AC Léopards, they drew their opening home leg 2-2, with the hosts disappointingly conceding a late equaliser with three minutes remaining. That late goal proved to be crucial as Djoliba were unable to overcome their opponents in the Republic of Congo when they lost 2-1 in the second leg and ensured a 4-3 aggregate defeat.
Q. Who are currently the best teams in the country?
As mentioned previously, the current league champions are Stade Malien, who claimed their 23rd title in the 2020-21 season. From the two groups of ten teams, it would be Stade Malien and Real Bamako that progressed to the Championship Phase of the season from Pool A, finishing comfortably ahead of the remaining pack. Whilst in Pool B, Djoliba were comfortable winners of the group but it would go to the final game of the group to determine the runner-up. With a game remaining, Yeelen Olympique held the advantage over Onze Créateurs de Niaréla and AS Korofina in the important second place spot. However, a 2-0 defeat to CO Bamako in the final group game, coupled with wins for both Onze Créateurs and Korofina ensured Yeelen finished fourth, with Onze Créateurs and Korofina leapfrogging them and the former snatching away the final qualification spot for the Championship Phase.
In the Championship Phase, it conclusively wasn’t a particularly tight contest with Stade Malien being the only undefeated team in the final group to confirm the Malian championship once again. Their league title was mathematically confirmed in their second to last league fixture when a 2-0 victory over Real Bamako, coupled with a 1-1 result between the remaining two teams, confirmed their 23rd league title and qualified them for the 2021-22 CAF Champions League.
The links for the Fédération Malienne de Football official social media channels can be found below:
In addition, there are a number of other African football websites or social media accounts that report on Malian football. They can be found below:
- African Insider Twitter: @African_Insider
- African Ftbl Twitter: @AfricanFtbl
- AfricanFootball.com Twitter: @AfrFootball
- AfricanFootball.com Website: https://africanfootball.com/
- MaliFootball.com Twitter: @malifootball
- MaliFootball.com Website: http://www.malifootball.com/
- Malisport Twitter: @mali_sport
- Malisport Website: https://malisport.wordpress.com/
So that completes the look at the Malian national team and its domestic league. If you have any comments, suggestions, reactions, or even your own answers to the above questions, please write them in the comments box below. Likewise, you can either email us at email@example.com, or send a message at @The94thMin on Twitter.