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No deal with Ivory Coast, insists Mali skipper Diarra

29 January 2008 10:24

ACCRA (AFP) - Mali captain Mahamadou Diarra insists there'll be no arrangement to produce a mutually convenient draw with Ivory Coast in their final African Nations Cup Group B tie here on Tuesday.

With tournament favourites Ivory Coast already qualified and Mali only requiring a draw to book the second quarter-final ticket there has been speculation on whether or not these neighbours have the desire to go all out for victory.

But Diarra, who is suspended after a rough tackle in the dying minutes of Friday's goalless draw with Nigeria, brushed the notion aside.

"If it's 0-0 with 20 or 25 minutes to go there won't be any 'deal', but perhaps the two teams will want to stabilise the game and break the rhythm in a certain way," he said.

"But the most important thing is to remain ourselves and to show to people that we're not there for nothing and that we play good football. And with our desire, we can go far."

The Real Madrid midfielder reckons Mali are three-quarters of the way to a last eight berth, which will earn them a match-up against the winners or runners-up in Group A, possibly against hosts Ghana who play 24 hours earlier.

Assessing Tuesday's game Diarra added: "It won't be as open and spectacular than if both teams really wanted to get three points, for Ivory Coast already have six, they're through.

"And we're 75 percent there, but that doesn't mean that it's wrapped up.

"We won't be playing at full speed, at 100 or 150 miles an hour, but remember it's still a match between Mali and (regional rivals) Ivory Coast!"

Turning to his enforced absence and how that might affect Mali's prospects he said: "It hurts not to be able to play, but when I look at our squad, I'm confident.

"The team works well without Diarra."

Loooking to what lies ahead in the knockout round, presuming Mali make it, he added: "The most important thing is to qualify, after we'll see what fate hands us. I'm not afraid of any team, whether it be Ghana, Guinea or Morocco."

Mali have never won the continental title, and the prospect of lifting the trophy aloft in Accra on February 10 excites Diarra.

"Every player, every person, has an objective in life. What's mine? It's soomething which I've never had, like everyone from Mali.

"We're getting there step by step, and 'Inshallah' ('God willing') we'll do it!"

The crowds will be out in force at Accra's Ohene Djan stadium to welcome Ivory Coast's captain Didier Drogba who scored the opening goal in the smooth 4-1 win over Benin.

After an openinig 1-0 win over Nigeria, Ivory Coast are on six points, and appproach this match with the comfort of being the first team to qualify.

For Drogba though it could be a tough match, for personal rather than professional reasons, as his wife is from Mali.

While Drogba will be there Kolo Toure, the Arsenal full back, will miss the tie after picking up a right leg injury against Benin.

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