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Having faced consecutive defeats in their initial two matches at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, Ivory Coast initially seemed unlikely to contend for the title on home soil. However, they have now progressed to the semifinals, defeating defending champions Senegal in the last 16.

Their upcoming hurdle is Mali, and despite Ivory Coast’s less-than-impressive start that did little to boost confidence, their recent triumph against the favorites, Senegal, in a 5-4 penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw suggests they are ready to take on any challenge.

It’s important not to underestimate Ivory Coast’s journey to the quarterfinals. Despite winning the 2015 edition, they only reached this stage once in the following three tournaments. Their progression so far, including a narrow escape from the group stage and a tense last-16 clash decided by an 86th-minute penalty, highlights the host nation’s resilience.

Mali, on the other hand, might view Ivory Coast as a more manageable opponent compared to Senegal. After a deserving 2-1 victory over Burkina Faso in the last 16, they aim to reach the semifinals for the first time since 2013. Mali finished third in 2013 and 2012 but has never clinched an AFCON crown.

A victory over the hosts on Saturday would signify a significant achievement for Mali, who reached the final in their first AFCON participation in 1972 but have been unable to secure glory in subsequent tournaments. The upcoming game holds particular emotional significance for their head coach, Eric Chelle, who, despite being a former Mali international, was born in Ivory Coast and revealed personal connections with the Elephants’ staff.

The upcoming match between Mali and Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations will mark their sixth encounter in the tournament. Their last meeting was in the 2019 last-16 duel, which Ivory Coast won 1-0. Ivory Coast holds an impressive record against Mali, having never lost in their previous five AFCON matches, with four victories and one draw. Interestingly, they haven’t faced any other team more frequently in the competition without experiencing a loss.

Mali struggled to score against Ivory Coast in their past encounters, managing only two goals while conceding nine. This goal record against Ivory Coast is their lowest when facing a team more than twice in the AFCON.

Despite being the hosts and having a talented squad, Mali is considered the favorites by the Opta supercomputer, winning 42.3% of the 10,000 pre-match simulations within the regulation 90 minutes. However, Ivory Coast is not far behind, winning 31.6% of the simulations, making them strong contenders. The simulations also indicated a possibility of the game going to extra time in 26.1% of the scenarios.

The upcoming match between Mali and Ivory Coast in the CAF Africa Cup of Nations will mark their sixth encounter in the tournament and the first since their clash in the last 16 in 2019, where Ivory Coast secured a 1-0 victory.

Mali has an impressive track record in quarter-finals, having progressed from all five of their previous appearances in the Africa Cup of Nations. This achievement stands as the highest number of matches any team has played in this round without facing elimination.

Despite losing two of their last three matches, Ivory Coast has secured a spot in the AFCON 2023 quarter-finals. Prior to a 1-0 defeat against Nigeria in the group stage, they had only suffered two losses in their previous 19 games in the competition.

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