Mali will carry considerable hope of reaching the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time in South Africa in 2010 given the star power of their squad.

Even though the Malians did not make it past the first round of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations finals in Ghana in early 2008, a squad packed with talent and now under the leadership of former Nigerian FIFA World Cup captain Stephen Keshi is highly regarded.

Striker Frederic Kanoute is the reigning African Footballer of the Year and midfielder Mahamadou Diarra a regular at Real Madrid. Seydou Keita has also emerged as a genuine world star with his performances in Spain for Sevilla.

Despite being one of the first African members of FIFA, Mali waited until 2000 to play their first FIFA World Cup qualifier, a match against Libya in qualifying for Korea/Japan 2002.

This is one of the numerous ironies of a side that frequently threatens to achieve greatness without ever delivering, despite boasting an excellent youth development framework and a host of professionals plying their trade with top European clubs.

A single final appearance, losing 3-2 against Congo at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 1972, and three fourth-place finishes at the 1994, 2002 and 2004 events still remain the west African side's finest achievements, and they are clearly yet to fulfill their potential.

Having witnessed their team suffer a 4-0 mauling by Morocco's Atlas Lions in the semi-finals of the Nations Cup 2004, Mali's fans were then forced to endure a disappointing and ultimately fruitless Germany 2006 qualifying campaign.

However, boasting performers as talented as Sammy Traore, Djimi Traore, Mohamed Sissoko, Seydou Keita and Cheick Oumar Dabo, Mali certainly appear to have the resources to prosper on the big stage, particularly with instinctive finisher Frederic Kanoute and inspirational captain Mahamadou Diarra leading from the front.