Frederic Kanoute had already acquired elevated status in Mali even before he pulled on a shirt for the West African country, but he was probably raised to all-out hero when he scored two goals here yesterday.
This was the Tottenham striker's first competitive game for the Eagles, as they are known, and he marked the occasion with a calmly taken side-footed finish after 62 minutes.
Kanouté followed that up by picking out the bottom corner of the Kenyan net nine minutes from time. It gave Mali the start they needed in the African Nations Cup and one that was expected of them by their fans, having reached the semi-finals as hosts two years ago. Their next two games, derbies against Burkina Faso and the World Cup quarter-finalists Senegal, promise to be much harder.
Surrounded by a cluster of journalists, a calm Kanouté said afterwards: "This was a hard game as Kenya tried to win it. I just tried not to panic when I had my chances. Kenya had just equalised before I scored my first so we tried to impose our game and concentrate."
To say a lot was expected of Kanouté was an understatement. He had previously played for the French Under-21 side but decided to take advantage of a recent rule change by Fifa, the world governing body, allowing anyone with dual nationality to play for either country if they had not played a senior international yet.
That meant Kanouté, who was born in Lyon, could play in the Nations Cup, much to the surprise and fury of his club."One big difference between this and the Premiership was the weather," he said. Compared to training in a frozen part of London, playing under blue skies by the Mediterranean must be preferable.
Mali quickly began to dominate their East African opposition, who have never won a game in the finals. They took the lead through Lamine Sissoko after 27 minutes, by which time Kanouté had already had one strong shot saved and set up Sammy Traoré for what should have been a routine finish.
Kenya equalised after 56 minutes through Titus Mulama but Kanouté restored the lead for "the boys from Bamako" after Seydou Keita's pass. His second was even more routine, a one-on-one with the goalkeeper, giving his country the best possible start and hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
MALI (4-4-2): Mahamadou Sidibé; Diamoutene (D Sidibé, 66), Diawara, A Coulibaly, Thiam; Keita (Touré, 86), Diarra, Sissoko, S Traoré; S Coulibaly, Kanouté.
KENYA (4-5-1): Onyiso; Waweru (Opiyo, 88), Kassim, Otieno, Juma; Mulama, Shaban, Muiruri (Ake, 73), Mambo, Okoth; Oliech.
Referee: T Hailemelak (Ethiopia).Reuse content