“We have no choice but to beat Mali. We are condemned to win that game as well as our final match against Benin,” said Onyekachi Apam, Nice defender.
“We have the quality to win this cup but we have to prove it on the pitch.”
Danny Shittu, Nigeria’s Watford defender, added: “We have to beat Mali to stay in this tournament. We were all disappointed we did not get anything from the Ivory Coast match and that is why we must get it right on Friday.”
“We have no choice but to beat Mali. We are condemned to win that game as well as our final match against Benin.”
Berti Vogts, under-fire Nigeria coach, has taken responsibility for the loss to the Ivorians and has promised to ring some changes to his starting team with the strike force of Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Aiyegbeni most likely to be changed with either Ikechukwu Uche or Obinna Nsofor getting an early look-in.
Doubts also surround the availability of skipper Nwankwo Kanu, who limped off against the Ivory Coast and has since been training apart from the rest of the squad.
Steaua Bucharest defender Ifeanyi Emeghara will still have no part to play in the tournament due to an ongoing knee, and will undergo a scan to ascertain the severity of the problem.
Mali make progress
The last Nigeria and Mali met in this competition was four years ago in Tunisia with Nigeria scoring a 2-1 win in the third-place playoff.
However Mali have matured since then with several of their key stars, such as skipper Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and Frederic Kanoute, stepping up to the big time.
Diarra is now at Real Madrid while Keita and Kanoute also ply their trade in Spain with Sevilla. “We expect a battle of attrition against Nigeria because they are a good, strong side and still play the physical game they are known for,” said Diarra.
“You will have to go a long way back to recall the last time we beat them but we are confident we can get the result we need on Friday.”
Kanoute, the other star attraction of the Eagles from Bamako, admitted it was tough going against Benin, widely considered the whipping boys of Group B, but the victory has set the tone for a satisfying campaign for Mali.
“It was far from an easy game. Benin fought hard and the task was not made any easier by the heavy pitch,” the former Tottenham and West Ham United striker said.
“So in the end we were delighted to have picked up the full points.
“This can only boost our confidence when we play against the top two teams in our group.”