Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keïta is back to base after more than a year of absence from Mali national team, in the wake of their debacle at the 2010 African Cup of Nations.
Although enlisted on the roster for Cape Verde face-off by coach Alain Giresse, many locals were not expecting to see the 31-year-old former Sevilla player on the pitch, after he had failed to show up in previous encounters.
Keïta was greeted with wide cheers as his side filed out to the centre park for the game. He was applauded each time he touched the ball.
His smiles and responsive waving of hand at fans could tell how good he was feeling the love from his kinsmen, whom he had long abandoned high and dry.
The celebrations that accompanied Mali’s exhilarating 3-0 win over the Blue Sharks were perfected by Keïta’s discernible presence at the Stade 26 Mars in Bamako, where some 50 000 fans beat the drums till midnight.
A plethora of acknowledgement’s to Keïta followed on Monday, from the Sport ministry, the football association, teammates and the coach himself, all thanking the gone dear son for retracing his steps back home.
According to Adama Coulibaly, Auxerre defender and Mali international, the Eagles were in need of a motivator and midfield powerhouse, which Keita provided during the clash against Cape Verde.
“The return of Keita brought an enormous help to the Mali team,” Coulibaly said.
“He motivated us, protected us, conducted the strategies and cautioned the defence. You can see the whole nation is happy not just because we won, but because Keïta is back and we’ll be counting on him if we clinch our qualification.”
Mali are topping Group A with nine points ahead of Zimbabwe on eight and Cape Verde on seven.