Mali look to "make men of boys" at U20 World Cup.
FIFA U20 World Cup
29 July - 20 August 2011
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Samuel Philip Steinbock
Mali was the first side to book their place at Colombia 2011 from the African Youth Championship after the first two group games ensured them a semi-final place.
A golden generation of players, who still form the backbone of the Mali national side, had their genesis at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in one of the West African country's three previous appearances in the finals.
Mali were semi-finalists in 1999 when they eliminated hosts Nigeria in the last eight but then lost to eventual winners Spain in the semi-final. Included in the side that day was Barcelona's Seydou Keita, who went on to win the Golden Ball award for best player.
However, the West African side do not boast the best of records at the tournament. At the 1989 finals they lost 5-0 to Brazil and in 2003 when they also failed to get past the first round.
Mali's goal difference in the 13 previous matches they played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup is -9. They have scored 21 goals, conceding 30.
However, a trio of starlets from Paris St Germain - Kalifa Coulibaly, Adama Toure and Kalifa Traore - are being tipped for greatness, and the rest of the team should have the physical strength to compete at the world championships.
A match-up with France in the group phase has already spiced up interest ahead of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Colombia 2011, particularly as players of Malian origin could feature for the opposition.
For the manager, Cheick Fantamady Diallo, the side faded at the African finals which suggests work is needed on physical stamina and concentration, but Diallo insists his first job is to "make men of boys" through the competition.