An intriguing encounter in the Cup of Nations brings together Tunisia – tournament winners in 2004 – and the exciting Mali side coached by Mohamed Magassouba. Tunisia are the top seeds in the group, but find themselves in need of a win here having drawn their opening game with Angola. Tunisian manager Alain Giresse, a star of the swashbuckling French sides of the 1980s, will be hoping his stars find some of their undoubted quality – not least forward Wahbi Khazri, who disappointed at the weekend.
Mali have never won the ACN, and are middle-of-the-pack bets to improve on their 1972 showing when they made the final. The last two tournaments have seen them exit in the group stages, but a 4-1 clattering of Mauritania to open the tournament has got them off on the right foot, giving them a chance to secure a spot in the knockout stages with a game to spare – as long as they can do what’s needed here.
Tunisia vs Mali Prediction: Tunisia 1-2 Mali
Mali certainly began the tournament in style, racking up the highest-scoring opening match and looking extremely composed as they did it. Two goals in either half saw them home easily, although the failure to keep a clean sheet will have rankled. The Carthage Eagles, for their part, never really got going against an Angolan side that is a shadow of its mid-noughties heyday. Tunisia will need to push on in attack here, and that could be all the invitation a classy Malian attack needs to pick them off on the break. Mali’s lone striker Moussa Marega, of Porto, is always dangerous.
Our recommended tip: More than 2.5 goals
Tunisia have kept four clean sheets in their last 17 games, and those rare examples of defensive solidity came against Iraq, Niger and Eswatini (twice). It’s some way off being the kind of form you want to bring into a Cup of Nations, and especially when you’re coming up against Marega and the gifted Monaco playmaker Adama Traore. Tunisia are more than capable of getting on the scoresheet, but it’s keeping them out at the other end that seems to bother them, meaning that this game should at least be filled with attacking openings. BetVictor have 13/8 on more than 2.5 goals being scored – that seems generous based on the opening weekend.
Little can be read into other meetings between these sides, as they’ve played a couple of friendlies in the last two decades, plus a meeting in the African Nations Championship. That’s a partner tournament to this one, specifically involving only players who play in the domestic leagues of their native countries.
Although Mali won that day by a 2-1 scoreline, the only player who appeared that day who may turn out for this match is their goalkeeper Djigui Diarra. With both sides here able to call on a range of players who ply their trade in top European leagues, this will be a different game; but it may have the same result.
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Players to watch: Naim Sliti & Adama Traore (II)
Marseille-born Sliti qualifies to play for Tunisia by virtue of his parents’ nationality, and came through the youth ranks at Olympique Marseille. He now plays a wide attacking role for Dijon, and his ability to cut in off the wing to score goals has been invaluable to the national side. He’s scored nine in 32 for Tunisia, and grabbed winners in warm-up games against Croatia and Burundi to add to his four goals in the qualification campaign for this tournament.
There are two Adama Traores in the Mali national squad. Both ply their trade in France, both are attacking midfielders and both scored against Mauritania. The one likely to start here, though, is contracted to Monaco and wears the number 21. He laid on one goal in addition to his stunning strike in the opening game, and Tunisia will need to keep a constant eye open for his clever passing. If he can’t get it done here, Mali can always bring on the other Adama Traore, who isn’t bad either.