Yacouba Sylla of Mali challenged by Denis Iguma of Uganda during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations Finals match between Uganda and Mali at the Oyem Stadium in Gabon on 25 January 2017 ©Samuel Shivambu/BackpagePix
Wednesday Aug 30, 2017. 20:00
AfricanFootball looks at three key battles which will decide the outcome of the 2018 World Cup qualifier between Morocco and Mali in Rabat on Friday night.
Walid Azaro v Mahamadou N’Diaye
Morocco have struggled for many years to find a striker who can burden the responsibility of leading their attack, and in youngster Walid Azaro they have a player who could be a star of the future. The 21-year-old Al Ahly forward will be eager to establish himself in the Atlas Lions side, but he faces a tough opponent in the shape of Mahamadou N’Diaye, an experienced centre-back who has been to three Africa Cup of Nations with the Eagles and is regarded as one of their current generation’s best defenders.
Mbark Boussoufa v Yacouba Sylla
Mbark Boussoufa is a hugely experienced attacking midfielder and Morocco coach Herve Renard will be expecting the 33-year-old to direct his team’s attack on Friday night. The man looking to stymie his efforts will be Mali’s captain Yacouba Sylla. The 26-year-old French-born player - who completed a move from Rennes to Panathinaikos this week - is tough in the tackle and covers plenty of ground. The midfield battle between these two players will be vital in determining the outcome of the match.
Medhi Benatia v Kalifa Coulibaly
Atlas Lions coach Renard scored a major coup by convincing defender Medhi Benatia to return to the national team. The Juventus centre-back will bring solidity, composure and experience to the heart of Morocco’s defence, providing them with the foundation to build the rest of the team on. Benatia’s direct opponent is likely to be Kalifa Coulibaly, a powerful striker who stands almost two metres tall and scored a goal in Mali’s 2-1 win over Gabon in 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers just a few months back.