Mali hope to cause shock waves across Africa on Sunday as they look to defeat the might of D.R. Congo in the final of CHAN 2016 on Sunday.
The African Nations Championship crown will be decided in Kigali, Rwanda, as the Congolese— inaugural winners from 2009—attempt to add a second title against unlikely opposition.
The competition is only open to players who feature in their own domestic leagues, denying the nations the chance to play star individuals such as Yannick Bolasie and Bakary Sako of Crystal Palace.
Here are the full details for the final, including a match preview.
Where: Kigali, Rwanda
Date: Sunday, Feb. 7
Time: 6:30 p.m. (CAT local); 4:30 p.m. (GMT); 11:30 a.m. (ET)
Mali Attempt To Claim Third Huge Scalp
At the start of the competition, few African football fans would have considered Mali reaching the final. The Eagles' full national team have never reached the World Cup finals, continually also-rans through the qualification process.
The West African country have improved dramatically in recent years, reaching the last-four in the Africa Cup of Nations in 2012, but this was a rare success for the team.
Mali qualified as Group D runner-up, only victorious in one of their three games during the opening matches at CHAN 2016.
Draws against Uganda and Zambia flanked a dramatic 1-0 win against Zimbabwe, earning Mali a place in the knockouts and an unbeaten group stage qualification record.
The best was yet to come from the Eagles as they battled two of the superpowers of African football in the following rounds.
They first eliminated Tunisia in the quarter-finals, winning 2-1 in Kigali, and then defeated the Ivory Coast in the semis by a solitary goal.
It was a triumphant reward for the Malians, who delivered an attacking style of play that has won them many fans.
However, now they must claim a third scalp from the stronger nations of African football, as they battle D.R. Congo in the final.
The Leopards exploded into the competition in their opening Group B matches, defeating Ethiopia 3-0 and Angola 4-2. However, a defeat to Cameroon saw them qualify as runners-up, and a new cautious style was introduced as a result.
D.R. Congo have since relied on the fortitude of their defence to get them to the final. They narrowly defeated hosts Rwanda in the last-eight and beat Guinea on penalties in the semi-final.
Football writer Collins Okinyo highlighted defender Joel Kimwaki as a star performer, who has looked strong in the back line with Padou Bompunga throughout the tournament:
The final would be a procession on paper, but Mali have become a different prospect through the three weeks of competition.
The Eagles are playing the most attractive football at CHAN 2016, and neutrals will be wishing them success on Sunday.
However, D.R. Congo know how to win this competition, and if they produce their form from the opening two games, they will have too much in the tank for their opponents.
All stats per CAFOnline.com.