Seasoned campaigners in this age category; 12 final appearances (3rd in 2003, fourth place – 4th time), and six World Cup appearances (twice third, in 1999 and 2015), and after an early exit two years ago in Zambia, Mali is back in the hunt for laurels. Their aim is to change the status quo and book their ticket for the seventh World Cup in their history.

Our objective is to play five games in Niger, in other words qualify to the final”, said Head Coach Mamoutou Kane fondly called ‘Mourle in his native Mali, and has given priority to locally-based players. In his final 21-man squad, he has 13 locals against eight plying their trade abroad.

In their build-up, the Eaglets were camped at the National Technical Centre for a couple of weeks. They played several friendlies against local clubs. For their last preparation, against the Malian club Club Olympique de Bamako, they won 2-1 courtesy goals fromCaptain Mohamed Camara, and El Bilal Toure.

This result gave us an idea of what to expect at the U-20 AFCON. The preparation has ended. We have done most of the work, and we are ready for competition. This team has two qualities, the offensive and defensive technique. There are player who are skilled and others who know how to score. Going the extra mile is our ambition. Our goal is to lift the trophy, said Kane.

Austrian-based trio, Sekou Koita, Mohamed Camara and Ousmane Diakite were the last to join the squad as they gauged their readiness for Niger.

Against Cameroon in the final round of the qualifiers, ‘Les Aiglons’ showed their true prowess in their second leg. After taming the Indomitable Lions away in Yaounde (1-1), they rolled 3-0 past the Lions.

At the early stages, they left no chance to Tanzania, beating them in both legs; 2-1 and 4-1.

Mali will play in Group B, who will be based in Maradi, 645 km away from the capital Niamey, on an artificial turf. They face Senegal (February 3), Burkina (February 6) and Ghana (February 9).

Source: Confederation Africaine de Football

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