Malawi need a draw (11/4) as a minimum against Mali as they try and reach a historic quarter-finals

Mali v Malawi, African Cup of Nations, January 18, 2010

Mali EVS; Draw 11/4; Malawi 100/30

“This is perhaps the biggest game ever in Malawi’s history. Reaching the last eight would be everything for us and make the whole nation proud. It would be history and having been absent from the finals for 26 years, to get there in our second Nations Cup would be no mean achievement.” – Malawi coach Kinnah Phiri.

Who’d have thought it. As the final round of group games tick over at the African Cup of Nations, minnows Malawi stand on the brink of making history as the Flames are within touching distance of the quarter-finals.

After the sizzling first match display in the 3-nil thrashing of Algeria, a win in the final group match against Mali would advance Malawi into the quarter-finals for the first time in the country’s history. Alternatively, a draw against the Malians would also secure qualification, provided Algeria fail to beat the hosts Angola in the other final match in Group A.

Orlando Pirates midfielder Joseph Kamwendo has been the heartbeat of the Malawi team in Angola, sticking his foot in when it counts in the centre of the park and providing the necessary engine in midfield to keep Malawi competitive. (Malawi are 100/30 to keep a clean sheet, 1/4 against.)

Further forward, Russel Mwafulirwa should return to lead the Flames’ attack having scored against Algeria but after missing the defeat to Angola. (Malawi are 7/2 to score in both halves.) The IFK Norrkoping forward will link up with the only other foreign based player in the Malawi squad – FC Kamaz striker Essau Kanyenda playing in the Russian second division. (Mali are 7/4 to keep a clean sheet, 4/7 against.)

Mali, for their part, have been the most disappointing team of the African Cup of Nations so far. Blessed with a squad of immense talent, the Eagles have failed to impress either their 4-all draw with Angola or their 1-nil defeat to Algeria, looking disjointed and generally uninterested in being real contenders for the title since arriving at the games.

Needing a win to have any chance of staying alive at CAN 2010, Mali will miss midfield ace Mahamadou Diarra after the Real Madrid enforcer picked up a suspension for his second booking of the tournament. Fellow midfielder Bakary Soumare from French Ligue 1 club Boulogne will also be absent after collecting a pair of yellows, although Juventus’ Momo Sissoko should be available in the centre of he park along with Seydou Kieta to bolster the ranks in the middle of the pitch.

Up-top, Freddie Kanoute will be the target man for the Malians, and without question the Sevilla forward has the skills and ability to unlock the Flames defence. (Mali are 7/4 to score in both halves.)

Pre-tournament, all common sense would have point to Mali scooping the three points in this fixture, with the Malawians coming into the competition as the touted whipping boys of the games. Yet after two matches this match has the feeling of a coin-flip, with the Flames having shown they can compete at this level while the Malians will always pose a threat due to the talent in their squad.

Looking at the current group standings, Malawi are likely to come out in defensive mode, as a draw will be enough for them to progress to the next round. Mali are aware that they have to come with an all-out attacking formular as nothing short of a victory will guarantee them a spot in the next round.

101predicts: Mali 1 – Malawi 1 (6/1)

Mali EVS; Draw 11/4; Malawi 100/30

Full match odds here.