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 yesterday 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.

Mali hopes to take advantage of an under-pressure Ghana after the Black Stars blew a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Congo in their Group B opener.

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 Mali’s biggest test of the group stage – Carteron said his players were boosted by the international intervention in Mali and drew inspiration from an improving situation at home.

“I wanted them to feel something special. To come there and to have much more motivation,” Carteron said. “At the moment, they feel positive because what happened in their country is something nice for them and for their families.”

Mali hopes to take advantage of an under-pressure Ghana after the Black Stars blew a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 with Congo in their Group B opener.

It’ll be the third meeting between the teams in the last two cups after Ghana beat Mali in the group stage last time. Mali then won the third-place match.

Carteron said Thursday’s game would indicate how much his team had “grown” over the last 12 months.

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