Coach Alain Giresse said his Mali players would have their work cut out to defeat Ivory Coast, a team he calls the "Brazil of Africa," in Wednesday's Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals.
Zambia also know they are underdogs against 2010 World Cup quarter-finals Ghana on the same day.
Former France midfielder Giresse heaped praise on the depth of quality in Ivory Coast's squad, comparing them to five-times world champions Brazil.
"This is a game we have to approach with some circumspection but we see it as a challenge," he told reporters ahead of the match in Libreville.
"We will take it slowly and look to match them in all departments."
Mali squeezed through by beating co-hosts Gabon 5-4 on penalties in Sunday's quarter-final in Libreville.
The Ivorians were 3-0 winners over co-hosts Equatorial Guinea on Saturday and will feel probably less tired than Mali who played an extra half-hour of football one day later.
Ghana, who lost to Egypt in 2010, are trying to reach the final for the second edition running.
Ivory Coast last made the final in 2006 when they were beaten by Egypt on penalties.
Zambia coach Herve Renard believes Ghana are the "hot favourites" to lift the title this time.
"They have been the best team in Africa for the past few years, they almost reached the World Cup semi-finals," said Renard who was assistant coach when Ghana made it to the Nations Cup semis four years ago.
"We will need something special to beat them in Bata," he added.
Zambia reached the semis for the first time since 1996 by beating Sudan 3-0 on Saturday while Ghana had to go to extra time to eliminate Tunisia 2-1.
Zambia (1974 and 1994) and Mali (1972) have played in previous finals but have never won the Africa Cup of Nations.comments