Niger hope their fortunes change at the Africa Cup of Nations Sunday as they aim to end a losing streak in the competition when they face Mali at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
This will be the Menas’ (Gazelles) second appearance at the tournament after they made their debut in Gabon last year and lost all three group games.
Goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly has promised that the experience gained in defeats by co-hosts Gabon, and Tunisia and Morocco would stand Niger in good stead in South Africa.
“Playing in 2012 has been positive and (the lessons) will be put to (good use) in South Africa.
“The objective of the entire team is different to last year,” said Kassaly, who plays for South African Premiership club Chippa United.
“We will fight to qualify for the next round as we are better motivated now, and backed by the entire country.
“It’s an extra motivation for me after reading that Chippa United supporters will travel to Port Elizabeth to support Niger.”
Niger can no longer be taken lightly after they eliminated Guinea in the final qualifying round for South Africa.
They turned the table on more illustrious neighbours by winning 2-0 in Niamey after losing the first leg by the odd goal in Conakry.
Niger will be further encouraged by results in their build-up for the championship, beating Togo 3-1 at home and holding Burkina Faso to a goalless draw in South Africa.
The Nigeriens’ star attraction remains skipper and striker Moussa Maazou, while the likes of Tunisia-based defenders Mohamed Chikoto and Kofi Dankwa and experienced striker Issoufou ‘Dante’ Alhassane have also impressed.
Mali, on the other hand, have proved they cannot be dismissed after they went as far as the semi-finals last year with a youthful team before bowing to the Ivory Coast.
Seydou Keita carried the team on his experienced shoulders in Gabon and will be expected to do same again, especially with ex-skipper and centre-back Cedric Kante unavailable and Fulham midfielder Mahamadou Diarra ruled out by a knee injury.
“I still have a lot to offer and so will aim to steer my team as far as possible at the tournament,” said the former Barcelona ‘super sub’.
The Eagles are ranked number three by FIFA in Africa behind the Ivory Coast and Algeria.