LUANDA (AFP) - Mali plan to become African Nations Cup party poopers a second time when they face hosts Angola Sunday in the opening match of the 2010 tournament.
The Eagles stunned over-confident Tunisia 2-0 in the 1994 curtain raiser with President Ben Ali so disgusted by the performance of the home team that he stormed out of the stadium long before the final whistle.
"You only need to look at the calibre of players in this team, the body language, attitude and spirit to know we mean business," was the chilling message for the host nation from Mali coach Stephen Keshi.
"I realise we are not among the favourites and large sections of the media do not believe we will even qualify for the knockout stage, but I beg to differ.
"Our preparations have gone according to plan and my team can go all the way to the final," said Keshi, a Nations Cup winner as a player with his native Nigeria 16 years ago.
Keshi said Malians should not be concerned about only one victory in four warm-up matches around the Middle East as he was experimenting with various combinations.
Mali defeated Iran, drew with Qatar and lost to North Korea in a Doha tournament before jetting to Dubai where they fell 1-0 to Nations Cup title holders Egypt.
Only Egyptian Hassan Shehata of the 16 2008 Nations Cup coaches will be in Angola and Keshi knows a first-round exit from a group completed by 2010 World Cup qualifiers Algeria and Malawi could spell the end of his tenure.
Expected to push Ghana hard for a place at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Mali flopped to finish only third in the mini-league behind the 'Black Stars' and lightweights Benin.
Mali boast big names in midfielders Mahamadou Diarra from Real Madrid and Seydou Keita from Barcelona plus 2008 African Footballer of the Year and Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute.
There was also room in the 23-strong squad for a couple of local stars, goalkeeper Soumbeyla Diakate and defender Abdoulaye Maiga from African Confederation Cup holders Stade Malien.
The Eagles boast a proud Nations Cup record, finishing runners-up to Congo in 1972, and the west Africans have been among the top four in four of five previous appearances.
Ghana two years ago was the exception with a 3-0 loss to Ivory Coast eliminating Mali after the first round and French coach Jean-Francois Jodar was dumped in favour of Keshi.
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