Paris 2024: Mali return to Olympic football after 20-year wait

Mali’s U-23 football team has finally secured qualification for the Paris Olympic Games after a two-decade-long wait.

In a highly anticipated play-off match at the 2023 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), coach Badara Alou Diallo’s team triumphed over Guinea in a nail-biting penalty shootout, prevailing 4-3 after a goalless draw.

The first half of the match at the Ibn Batouta Stadium produced limited scoring opportunities, but both teams returned to the pitch determined to find the breakthrough.

Algassime Bah came close to opening the scoring for Guinea on two occasions, but Mali’s goalkeeper Lassine Diarra proved to be a formidable presence.

With neither team able to break the deadlock, the match was ultimately decided in a tense penalty shootout.

Diarra emerged as the hero for Mali, saving the penalty kicks of Aguibou Camara and Seydoumba Cisse.

Although Mali’s Issoufi Maiga missed his spot-kick, the team displayed unwavering composure as all four remaining players converted their penalties.

This historic victory marks the second time in Mali’s football history that the U-23 team has qualified for the Olympics, the first being in 2004 when the Olympic Eagles reached the quarter-finals in Athens under the leadership of legendary coach Tenema N’Diaye.

Emotions ran high among the players and officials of the Mali team as they celebrated their long-awaited qualification for the Paris Olympics.

Mali now joins Morocco and Egypt as the third African nation to secure their spot in the prestigious tournament, with Guinea capable of sealing a place via a palyoff against an opponent from Asia in a ywt-to-be announced date.

The final of the 2023 U-23 Afcon will take place in Rabat on Saturday.

As the journey continues for these talented young athletes, Mali’s qualification for the Paris Olympics serves as a testament to their determination and skill.

The stage is now set for an exhilarating display of football prowess as the U-23 teams from various nations compete for Olympic glory in the vibrant city of Paris.

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