Continental heavyweights Turkey, Mali face-off for crucial win

A win for Turkey will take it a step closer to the Round-of-16, another loss for last edition's semifinalist Mali will only diminish its qualifying hopes further - suffice to say, a crackerjack of a contest is in the offing at the picturesque venue.

Turkey will be hoping for striker Malik Karaahmet to fire against Mali.   -  UEFA

As the excitement around India's maiden FIFA event settles, the focus will shift towards on-field action, with two heavyweights - Turkey and Mali - locking horns in a crucial Group B encounter at the D.Y. Patil stadium here on Monday.

In a tournament with such high stakes, picking a favourite is elementary, and Turkey played like one against an unheralded New Zealand side before being shackled to a frustrating 1-1 draw - thanks to opposition captain Max Mata's equaliser and Turkey's laid-back defending in the second-half.

Persistent attack and better conversion

The Recep Gul-led side had opted for a 4-3-3 formation in the first match where its quick passing game - a hallmark of an attacking first-half display - was spearheaded by the duo of Ahmed Kutucu; registered with German club FC Schalke 04 and Malik Karaahmet, and buoyed by midfielders Kerem Kesgin and Atalay Babacan.

And though Turkey led the game in possession (59-41), it had a lackluster second-half and would hope to be more persistent in its attack against Mali.

The African champion, on the other hand, had a mixed day losing 3-2 to Paraguay despite keeping 60% possession. Tied 2-2 at half-time, Mali conceded the winner when Paraguay's Alan Rodriguez fired past the opposition goalkeeper with a powerful spot-kick after it was awarded a penalty courtesy Abdoulaye Diaby's handball.

Mali had plenty of chances but could only watch in dismay as its majority of the shots sailed over the bar - better finishing against Turkey would be on top of head-coach Jonas Komla's priority list.

That said Mali, which fielded a 4-3-3 formation, played with aggression from the start - a quality which could hold the side in good stead against a skillful Turkish unit - equally adept at attacking play.

The think-tank will be pleased with Mali's rearguard action which saw it draw level on the stroke of half-time. Forward Hadji Drame, who scored three times in Mali's successful title defence at the Continental Cup, will once again be key to his team's fortunes along with Lassana Ndiaye, who scored the equaliser for his team in the last game.

Defensive woes

It was a lapse in Mali defence that helped Paraguay score a 2-0 lead but in a goal-fest where the result boiled down to a penalty, the defenders could be spared criticism. That said, against Turkey, they have to be watertight at their positions.

As for the the Euro U-17 semifinalist, it is the wobbly defense that'll keep it on its toes. Against an upbeat New Zealand side, searching desperately for an elusive equaliser, the defence line was put to the sword on several occasions.

It had to subdue a raging Mata and midfielder Elijah Just, who seemed intent on finding the net with every promising run. The duo eventually combined to score the equaliser when the latter surprised the defence with a quickly taken free-kick, finding his captain in place on the left for a tap-in. The Turkish defenders lacked watchfulness to deny the Kiwis taking a quick free-kick - Mehmet Hacioglu's boys need to show grittiness and shore up a defence, which appeared vulnerable at the first glimpse of a counterattack.

While a win for Turkey will take it a step closer to the Round-of-16, another loss for last edition's semifinalist Mali will only diminish its qualifying hopes further - suffice to say, a crackerjack of a contest is in the offing at the picturesque venue.