FIFA U-17 WC: In-form Mali takes on Ghana in West African duel

Mali has been better in attack while Ghana has been more resolute in defending. Ghana’s progress has not been as spectacular as Mali but the team has managed a good defensive record, conceding just one goal in four matches.

Mali players prepare for their quarterfinal clash against Ghana, at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Friday.   -  PTI

 

Ghana will be looking to reconnect with its formidable record of the ’90s when it takes on last edition’s runner-up Mali in the first quarterfinal of the ongoing FIFA Under-17 World Cup here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Saturday. The match-up of the two remaining African sides in the present contest will be interesting considering the polarity in the history of their achievements in the youth level World Cup.

Practically ruling the final decade of the last century, Ghana has won a medal in each of the five editions falling within the period. Beginning with the maiden crown in 1991, it reached four successive finals, picking up two titles and as many runner-up spots before finishing a creditable third in the 1999 edition. Mali made its first big impression finishing as runner-up against Nigeria in the last edition (2015) in Chile. It hadn’t progressed beyond the quarterfinals prior to that.

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On the scale of performances in the recent past, Mali has emerged a stronger team in the youth competitions in Africa. It has been the continental champion in the last two editions, winning the CAF U-17 Cup of Nations successively in 2015 and 2017. This year it beat Ghana by a solitary goal to be the best in Africa and would be looking to extend that supremacy at the world stage.

Ghana players attend a training session in Guwahati on Friday.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

 

At the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, Mali has been better in attack while Ghana has been more resolute in defending. The African champion’s consistency in attacking is evident in the regularity with which it has found the target. After its 2-3 loss against Paraguay, Mali made a spectacular turnaround, scoring 11 goals in the next three matches, including five against a hapless Iraq in the pre-quarterfinals. Mali’s performance has been marked by robust flank play with players like Lassana N’Diaye, Abdoulaye Diaby, Mamadou Samake and Salam Jiddou being the prominent names in the offense. “We know each other every well and are prepared for the match. It will be a good one to watch,” Jiddou said, predicting a close contest.

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Mali will be looking up to N’Diaye, who is sharing the top spot in the scoring chart with France’s Amine Gouiri, to be effective in the striking zone.

Ghana’s progress has not been as spectacular as Mali but the team has managed a good defensive record, conceding just one goal in four matches. Ever since its 0-1 loss against the USA in the opening match, Ghana has defended better than most of the sides in the competition. The team has been fielding on an average five specialist defenders with the captain Eric Ayiah as the lone man in attack. Ghana’s approach till now has been more about surprising the opponent with speedy counter-attacks involving most of the players. Injury to defender Bismark Owusu is the only concern for Ghana which again has five players under the booking cloud. “We are ready to pay them back,” Najeeb Yakubu sounded the bugle ahead of the big West African duel.

Kick-off - Oct. 21, 5 pm.

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