Tunisia v Mali: Irritated Giresse trying to ignore criticism of Carthage Eagles
Tunisia coach Alain Giresse hopes Mali's opening Africa Cup of Nations performance inspires his team when the two sides meet on Friday, as he tries to ignore criticism of the Carthage Eagles.
Giresse's side headed into the tournament as one of the favourites, but they endured an underwhelming start with a 1-1 draw with Angola.
By contrast, their next opponents Mali hammered Mauritania 4-1 in a morale-boosting display that Giresse was impressed with.
Former France international Giresse has been in the job since December, but fielded criticism for apparent pragmatic tactics and team selections, the flak for the latter particularly coming after the Angola stalemate.
The situation has frustrated him, as he looks to remain focused on the matter at hand.
"We have an important and fateful match on Friday and we have to move away from criticism, focusing on winning, not other things," he told reporters.
"It's not natural that I am talking about my team changes, and I have the right to keep them completely [to myself] without talking about them.
"What I want to assure is the strength of the group we're in. We tried to work on this and express that. The last match didn't show what we're capable of.
"I followed Mali and their win and they were at the top level of the tournament. They showed a lot of strength, which we'll definitely get inspired by.
"We aim to qualify, that's the most important thing. So, there's no problem about being first or second."
Despite the impressive start against Mauritania, Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba is keen for his team not to become arrogant.
While most praised their performance in Suez, Magassouba took the opportunity in Thursday's pre-match news conference to give his team a confidence check.
"We have a young team, so we mustn't get carried away," he said. "We must go forward, match by match, opponent by opponent.
"The AFCON has just started for all of us and we were against a Mauritania team with talent. We had set up a system, but from the start my team sinned by leaving midfield spaces and opened up to the opponent.
"It was difficult for us, but during the second period we had to go forward, to hit the Mauritania defence and that allowed us to score four goals.
"We must know that Mali has ambitions to go far in this competition."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Tunisia - Youssef Msakni
The disappointing performance by Tunisia last time out leaves them in a slightly more precarious position than they would like. Generally, they were blunt in attack, with Msakni the only one who showed any real potency, creating three chances – no one else managed more than one – and scoring a penalty.
Mali – Adama Traore
Adama Traore – not to be confused with team-mate Adama Traore – was the star of the show for Mali in their opener. The Monaco-owned attacking midfielder scored, got an assist and was generally lively in the final third, creating a further five chances. Tunisia can be expected to get forward more than Mauritania, meaning the 23-year-old could have even more space to play with.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- Tunisia and Mali's only previous AFCON encounter came in March 1994, the latter winning 2-0 in the group stage.
- There have been no draws between Tunisia and Mali in all competitions (five wins for Tunisia, four for Mali).
- Tunisia have won only three of their last 11 games in the Africa Cup of Nations (D4 L4), after winning three of their previous five (L2).
- Mali have won only two of their last 12 games in the Africa Cup of Nations (D7 L3).
- Four of Tunisia's last six goals in the Africa Cup of Nations have been scored following set-pieces situations (three penalties, one from a corner).