The final day of Last 16 fixtures kicks off at 5pm BST on Monday as Mali and Ivory Coast do battle at the Suez Stadium in Egypt. The pair enjoyed similar group stage results and performances, with Mali finishing top of Group E on seven points, four clear of second placed Tunisia who drew each of their three outings. Ivory Coast earned only one point less than their upcoming opponents during the group phase, ending in second behind the now eliminated Morocco who amassed maximum points.
Mali have been in solid scoring form up to now, netting at least once in all of their matches thus far and keeping one clean sheet in that time. Against Mauritania in the opener, Mali went 2-0 up after only forty-five minutes and added to that tally twice in the second half through Adama Traore, despite a late attempted fightback from the opposition. Up next were Tunisia, a difficult opponent which loves a stalemate, and that proved to be the case here. Diadie Samassekou provided Mali with a lead on the hour mark, however Tunisia fired back ten minutes afterwards thanks to former Sunderland man Wahbi Khazri. 0-0 it finished. The third and final group stage encounter saw Mali take on Angola at the Ismailia Stadium where victory would ensure their position atop the Group E standings. Amadou Haidara notched the crucial goal in the first half and his team never let their heads drop from there in what was an even game, all things considered. Although they topped the table, they now have a formidable Ivory Coast team to beat if they wish to continue this journey.
Ivory Coast always have expectations when it comes to major international tournaments, and this year is no different. This meant that their opening AFCON matchup against South Africa held huge importance with both teams aiming for the summit of the group. Neither could find a breakthrough at first, until Jonathan Kodjia, assisted by Max Gradel, struck the ball past Ronwen Williams in the South Africa goal. That was all that was necessary to take all three precious points, and after that came a tough fixture versus one of the favourites, Morocco. Youssef En-Nesyri handed the Moroccans the advantage less than twenty-five minutes in and Ivory Coast couldn’t find a reply from anywhere, leading to their first defeat of the tournament in a disappointing ninety minutes. Winning in the last group stage outing was vital, but Ivory Coast did not crumble under the pressure. Gradel made it 1-0 on thirty-nine minutes, followed by Geoffroy Serey Die adding to that in the second half. Kamatuka cast doubt in the back of Ivory Coast fans and players minds when he got one back for Namibia, though they could do nothing to prevent Zaha and Cornet from making sure of victory for Ivory Coast.
Adama Traore may be forced to sit this one out due to injury, which would be a huge blow to Mali as they relied on their star-man at times during the group stage. It’s likely that Mali will line up in a 4-2-3-1 just as they did in the two games they won on their way to winning Group E, with Djigui Diarra as goalkeeper. Protecting him will be Molla Wague and Kiki Kouyate, while Lassana Coulibaly should sit beside Haidara in the centre of the field. The two Adama Traore’s will partner Moussa Doubia as attacking midfielders, just behind Kalifa Coulibaly as the number nine by himself.
Tottenham right back Serge Aurier sustained an ankle injury and could be forced to sit amongst the fans, although he should not miss the rest of the AFCON if his nation progress. A 4-2-3-1 is expected from Ivory Coast here, with Sylvain Gbohouo as number one and Wilfried Canon alongside Ismael Traore in defense. Serey Die will start as Franck Kessie’s help in defensive midfield, with Zaha, Gbamin and Gradel creating opportunities for both themselves and Wilfried Bony up front.
These two have definitely brought their shooting boots with them to Egypt, so we expect plenty of chances and maybe a couple of goals or more in this one. Combined, Mali and the Ivory Coast have seen fifteen goals in their games as of now, so we’re going for over 2.5 goals at 2/1 with Skybet. Mali have actually scored more than Ivory Coast during the course of the tournament, amassing six goals in total. Therefore, we can see them hungry for more and Skybet’s price of 7/2 for Mali to score 2+ is fantastic. It’s difficult to call the result of this one due to the positive nature of both camps at the moment, however as Mali are yet to suffer a loss we believe their mentality will be stronger than the Ivory Coast’s, so we are opting for Mali to win at 13/5 with Skybet.