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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 14:19 GMT
Marathon madness

By Farayi Mungazi
BBC Sport in Sousse

Mali's Frederic Kanoute
Mali's surrender in the semi-finals is going to cause me some pain

A quarter of an hour into the second half of Wednesday's Cup of Nations semi-final between Mali and Morocco came the words I had been dreading all evening:

"You better start preparing for your marathon and there's no way out because the whole world knows about your promise!"

This came from BBC colleague Mohammed Fajah Barrie who, sensing the collapse of Malian hopes, was only too eager to remind me of my pre-tournament pledge.

So convinced was I of Mali's ability to win this competition that I boldly declared I would run in next year's London marathon if the Eagles failed to be crowned African champions for the first time.

In fact, I had even put my signature to such a pledge in my office in England!

But following a brilliant display of attacking football from the Atlas Lions, I am helping myself to huge slices of humble pie as I contemplate pounding the streets of London for 42 kilometres.

However, every cloud has a silver lining.

A more sympathetic BBC team mate, Piers Edwards, has offered to run the marathon with me and all monies raised will be given to a children's charity in Mali.

Needless too say, I expect the likes of Fajah Barrie, Osasu Obayiuwana, Martin Davies, Mohammed Allie, Durosimi Thomas and Richard Fleming to give generously to a worthy cause!

While it could be argued that Mali played well enough in the group stage not to deserve anything like a 4-0 rout in the semi-finals, equally I find it difficult to dispute that they were pathetic enough against Morocco to merit an even greater hiding.

The London Marathon
I look forward to knowing the streets of London better!

Apart from a few isolated attacks, the 2002 hosts played with their backs firmly to the wall and I found it a sad sight watching so gifted a team being so consumed by collective self-doubt.

Morocco, meanwhile, were superb and always seemed to have one more player on the pitch than the opposition.

Long-standing captain Noureddine Naybet was at the heart of a defence which was as tight as a miser's purse.

And Youssef Mokhtari, whose two venomous strikes laid a foundation solid enough for the Moroccans to wreck Malian dreams, was hostile throughout.

Quite simply, the Atlas Lions put on a show which left me rubbing my eyes in disbelief and wondering whether publicly backing Mali was such a wise move after all!

If a week is a long time in politics, 90 minutes, as Mali found out, can be an age in football.

The referee's final whistle could not have been a better relief for the shell-shocked Eagles and their supporters - myself included.

Yet news I received from Kenya, via London, this morning has given me a considerable lift.

"High altitude training is essential for any athlete with ambition," John Nene, a BBC sports reporter in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, told my colleagues.

"I know Mungazi will be looking for a training camp and I invite him to train here in Kenya alongside some of the world's best."





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