Vanguard (Lagos)

6 February 2013

Nigeria/Mali: Afcon - Mali Will Be Tougher Than Cote d'Ivoire - Keshi

Nigeria's coach Stephen Keshi says he is delighted to come up against former team Mali in an Africa Cup of Nations semi-final today.

Keshi worked in Mali for two years before being fired after failing to get the team beyond the group phase of the 2010 tournament in Angola.

"It's a good feeling because I had two wonderful years in Mali. The Mali people were so nice and I enjoyed my relationship with the players, some of whom have kept in touch," said Keshi on Tuesday.

"But in this game I have to be professional because I'm a professional coach and after the game we could get together again."

Unlike the quarter-final against the Ivory Coast, Nigeria will be favoured to win, but Keshi, 51, insists both teams are favourites in this clash.

"I don't know anything about underdogs and favourites. What I know is that we will play against a very good Mali team, most of whom I know as I worked with them for two years," he said.

"We will approach this game as we have approached our matches against Burkina Faso, Zambia, Ethiopia and Ivory Coast. No one can tell me more about Mali -- they are a footballing nation with great talent.

"I have a lot of admiration and respect for this team and so we have to be prepared. This match may even be tougher than the match against the Ivory Coast."

Nigeria skipper Joseph Yobo said he believes the win over the Ivory Coast will lift the team against the Malians.

"There is no big difference about how we (Mali and Nigeria) play because we are both physically and tactically strong, but we have more confidence and self belief after our game against the Ivory Coast," said Yobo.

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