The tournament co-hosts will face former manager Alain Giresse, who now coaches Mali after his four-year stint at the Gabon helm ended in 2010 when he was replaced by fellow Frenchman Gernot Rohr.
Rohr played alongside Giresse for Ligue 1 side Bordeaux in the 1970s and 1980s, but Le Mans goalkeeper Ovono is focused on what a win would mean for his country and not a rivalry between old acquaintances.
"We are a nation of football and this is the dream of many players and the children to see the African Nations Cup organised in the country," Ovono told France Soir.
"When we play in this stadium of 40 000 people, there is something happening. We will give the maximum to go after the opposition.
"This year, early in our preparation, we realised that we were no longer the small country of Gabon but the organiser of the African Nations Cup.
"Our game has also evolved and we try to win the game, regardless of the team that we have in front of us. We gained confidence.
"The Ivory Coast has the potential to win the African Cup, Ghana too. But in football nothing is certain. We are here to make it clear that a small country can have its place and join the list."
The Panthers won all three games in the group stages and can approach the game full of confidence while Mali finished second in their pool after suffering one defeat against tournament co-favourites Ghana.
Mali captain Cedric Kante knows the task facing his side will be tough and has called for a determined performance.
"We will have put a lot more desire and determination into how we behave on the field. We must change mindsets," Kante told Radio France Internationale.
"Against teams mentally weaker than that of Gabon we can get away with it, but, given what the Gabonese did during the first three matches, we must question our focus."