Mali created several negative pre-tournament headlines with FIFA threatening to ban the country from the Cup of Nations over squabbling among officials.
Mohamed Magassouba then took four days longer than any of the other 23 coaches to name his squad, without offering an explanation.
Such chaotic build-ups can build team unity or destroy it as Mali seek to regain a reputation for punching well above their weight in the African showpiece.
“We have to do better than in the last two tournaments,” stressed defender Hamari Traore, referring to first round exits in 2015 and 2017 without winning even one match.
Long-time pushovers Mauritania have improved steadily under French coach Corentin Martins, whose aim in Egypt is simply to “be competitive and achieve some victories”.
Afcon live scores: Mali vs Mauritania
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Additional reporting by AFP, TSA Staff and agencies.