Mali coach: Team holds no fear of ICoast for semis

GERALD IMRAY AP Sports Writer Published:

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) -- Mali will be humble but fearless in its African Cup of Nations semifinal match against star-studded Ivory Coast, coach Alain Giresse said Tuesday.

Giresse said humility had been an "essential" part of Mali's success so far at the African Cup as the squad shrugged off an injury-plagued buildup and a poor performance at the last tournament to reach the last four in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea -- and set up a match with the continent's top-ranked team.

"Humility in sports is essential, (but) this does not preclude our ambition," Giresse said after guiding Mali to the last four for the first time since 2004. "We must always be humble. The biggest champions have to be humble to achieve a performance. We won't go into fear. There is no fear."

Anchored by central defender Cedric Kante and talismanic midfielder Seydou Keita, Mali's mainly inexperienced team rebounded from a 2-0 loss to Ghana in the group stage to oust co-host Gabon in a penalty shootout to reach the semifinals.

Many questioned Mali's ability to go far in the tournament after losing at least four first-choice players because of injury before the tournament and then being outplayed by fellow semifinalist Ghana in Franceville.

But the stubborn Malians, who also fought back from 1-0 down against Gabon in front of a rampant home crowd, have relied on their "collective discipline," Giresse said.

"I'm sorry for those making the predictions because we're here ... we're in the semifinals," Giresse said at Stade de l'Amitie on the eve of an ever bigger challenge against the Ivorians.

Ivory Coast is the outright favorite for the title after winning its first four games without conceding a goal, humbling the other co-host, Equatorial Guinea, 3-0 in front of another partisan crowd in Malabo in the quarterfinals.

Against Ivory Coast, Mali has also lost seven of the last nine meetings, with two draws, and the Malians last beat Ivory Coast in 1995.

"We know the numbers, we know the figures," Giresse said of Ivory Coast's recent form. "The numbers are a reflection of real team quality, a team with talent and with a very great potential. That's it. We'll stop there.

"We will not base our judgment on statistics ... the reality is on the field."

There were no serious fitness concerns for his team or Keita, who was spotted with his left ankle strapped up at training. There was only fatigue after their quarterfinal win over Gabon went through 120 minutes and to a shootout.

Giresse also pointed out that his team had so far decided not to practice penalties despite scoring from every one of their spot kicks to beat Gabon.

"I asked the players (about practicing penalties) and they said 'No, no, no, we are not going to think about a player who is going to miss a penalty kick,'" the Frenchman said. "We said we are going to be spontaneous."