'Openers are always tough, and it is even harder when you're facing the hosts,' says Mali U23 coach
Mahmoud Sheleib, Thursday 7 Nov 2019
Mali will be facing the hosts Egypt in the opening game of the U23 AFCON on Friday

Mali U23 coach Fanyeri Diarra said he was excited about participating in the Africa U23 Cup of Nations, but he stressed that the opening games are always the toughest. Mali are scheduled to face hosts Egypt on Friday.

"I'm happy with our participation in the U23 AFCON, especially after the qualifying difficulties we have faced during our game against Morocco, but we managed to win. Our major challenge is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo," Diarra said at a pre-game press conference on Thursday.

"The openers are always tough, and it is even harder when you're facing the hosts," he added.

Mali defeated Ethiopia 5-1 in aggregate in the qualifiers, before facing Morocco which ended with their 2-1 victory. They tied in the first leg 1-1 and managed to win 1-0 in the second leg.

"I had a main aim since I took charge, which was to qualify for the U23 AFCON, which was achieved. Now we seek to accomplish our second target which is booking a seat in the 2020 Olympics," the 61-year-old coach revealed.

Mali is playing in Group A alongside three tough teams, which are Egypt, Cameroon, and Ghana.

"Our group is very strong for playing against the hosts Egypt, Ghana, and Cameroon, but I trust my players can overcome all obstacles and clinch an Olympic seat," said Diarra

"It's very hard to face Egypt as the team includes outstanding players, in addition to having the advantage of land and fans, but we are well prepared to deal with these pressures," he stated.

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