PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — Mali coach Patrice Carteron brought his players together for five days in the troubled capital Bamako before the African Cup of Nations to motivate them and let them “feel the atmosphere” back home.
Thousands of Malians came to watch their national team train every day of the camp, the Frenchman said, and “it was fantastic” for both the players and the people.
Many of Carteron’s squad are based in Europe and haven’t lived through the yearlong problems in their country, but were boosted for their cup campaign by the short stay.
“I wanted them (the players) to feel the atmosphere,” Carteron said on Wednesday and on the eve of a tough game against Ghana in South Africa. “All the country is suffering, thousands of people were coming every day to see the players doing the training sessions.
“My players, I don’t think they had lived (through) this before. It was fantastic. All the people were happy to see the football players, to see positive things.”
This is the second time Mali has played in the cup against a backdrop of problems and conflict back home.
At last year’s tournament, captain Seydou Keita spoke out against violence as a military coup unfolded back home while the team was in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
On Sunday, Keita wore a T-shirt emblazoned with a peace message in French after he scored in Mali’s 1-0 win over Niger in its opening Group B game.
Ahead of the game against Ghana — which is likely to be