Keita-boosted Guinea eye Mali scalp, Afcon qualification
Guinea will be aiming to book their 2022 Africa Cup of Nations ticket when they host Mali in a Group A qualifier at Stade du 28 Septembre in Conakry on Wednesday.
Kick-off is at 6pm CAT (SA, GMT+2).
Mali made the trip to the Guinean capital this week having already booked their spot at the upcoming showpiece after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) disqualified Chad from the remainder of the qualifiers for government interference.
As a result, both Mali and Namibia were awarded 3-0 wins. Guinea will join Les Aigles in Cameroon next year with a win in midweek, but any other result will see them travel to Windhoek for what will be a qualification decider against the Brave Warriors on Sunday.
The Syli Nationale have been boosted by Naby Keita's availability for the first of two qualifiers this week after Guinea head coach Didier Six "negotiated with Liverpool" for his release.
African national teams have been hit hard by Covid-19 travel restrictions. Fifa ruled that clubs do not have to release players for international duty if they face quarantine on their return and Keita is set for an isolation period once he arrives back in England.
Keita has been key to Guinea's qualification push and is Group A's top goalscorer with two goals.
"We negotiated with Liverpool, which is one of the biggest clubs in the world, to have Naby Keita for the first game," Six said.
"After that we will put him on the plane immediately and he will be available for the (Premier League) restart after seven days in isolation, during which time he can train.
"I made a proposal to the clubs so that we could be as strong as possible for the first match," Six said. "It takes diplomacy, there's no point in yelling."
Mali have accumulated 13 points from five matches and have yet to lose with four wins and a draw. Guinea are on eight points from four matches with two wins and two draws from their allotted fixtures.
The top two nations in each group advance to the 24-team finals hosted in Cameroon next year.
Mali and Guinea played out to a 2-2 draw in the reverse fixture hosted in Bamako in November 2019.