Uganda v Mali: A lot at stake for Mali in shot-shy showdown
Mali head coach Alan Giresse needs his side to belatedly find their scoring touch against Uganda if they are to capitalise on their slim hopes of progressing from Africa Cup of Nations Group D.
Giresse's men have a solitary point to their name having drawn 0-0 with Egypt before going down 1-0 to Ghana - a result that guaranteed the Black Stars their place in the quarter-finals.
"The players are disappointed, but we are not completely knocked out," the former France great told reporters. “They will be ready to raise their heads for the last game.”
To join them, Mali must beat already eliminated Uganda at Stade d'Oyem and hope Ghana do not take their foot off the gas against Egypt.
Even in that scenario the battle for second place would come down to goal difference or, in the event of Mali and Ghana both recording 1-0 wins, lots being drawn by Egypt and Mali.
The prospect of that outcome would bring about an unwelcome sense of deja vu for Mali, who were eliminated in the same manner at the 2015 tournament, with Guinea the beneficiaries on that occasion.
Uganda cruelly fell short against Egypt in their previous game, as Abdallah El Said netted a minute from time – and will look to end the tournament on a high in a match that brings together two the only sides at AFCON 2017 without a goal to their name.
Milutin Sredojevic is keen for that to change this time and takes plenty of pride in his side's efforts in Gabon.
"I want to thank my players who gave their best and made their people proud," said Uganda's Serbian coach. "We came here to play three finals, we lost to Ghana by a penalty, lost to Egypt in the last minute and our ambition is to win against Mali and return home with pride."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Uganda – Denis Onyango
Cranes goalkeeper Onyango enjoyed a stellar 2016, crowned CAF Player of the Year – Based in Africa after starring for Mamelodi Sundowns as they won the CAF Chanpions League and South African Premier Division titles. But this match could mark his international farewell. “I am thinking about retiring from international football," the 31-year-old told SuperSport. "I am yet to make up my mind fully but it is something that is on my mind.”
Mali – Mamoutou N'Diaye
Royal Antwerp midfielder N'Diaye might only have 12 Mali caps to name but the 26-year old has proved an assured presence in the holding role for Giresse's side. His pass completion rate of 93 per cent was better than any midfielder in the tournament who made more than 50 passes in the opening two group games.
KEY OPTA STATS
-This is Uganda's sixth AFCON participation. Their best performance came in 1978 when they were beaten finalists against Ghana.
- Meanwhile, this is Mali's 10th AFCON participation. Their best performance dates back to 1972, when they lost 3-2 in the final against Congo.
- Mali have faced Uganda twice before and have never lost to them (W1 D1). The sides drew 2-2 last year and there was a 5-1 victory for Mali in 1965.
- Mali are without a win in seven group stage matches in the AFCON (D5 L2) and have only managed to record one clean sheet in that time.
- Uganda come into this match having failed to score in three successive AFCON matches - their longest such run in the competition, losing all three games in that time.