FIFA U-17 WC: Mali outwits Ghana to enter semifinals

Mali overcame slushy conditions to better a tough-playing Ghana 2-1 and ensure a semifinal ticket in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.

Mali captain Mohamed Camara (6) and forward Lassana N’Diaye (19) being tackled by Ghana players (in red) in the quarterfinal of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Guwahati on Saturday.   -  Ritu Raj Konwar

 

Mali overcame slushy conditions to better a tough-playing Ghana 2-1 and ensure a semifinal ticket in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. The first quarterfinal of the present edition here at the Indira Gandhi Stadium on Saturday saw 2015 runner-up Mali emerging a better side both in adapting to the conditions and in getting the right strategy to out-manoeuvre the speed and thrust of Ghana.

Match Centre

Hadji Drame took Mali ahead early in the first half before Djemoussa Traore doubled the lead just past the hour mark. Kudus Mohammed pulled one back for Ghana in the final quarter of the action but that was not enough for the team to get back into the match as Mali defended resolutely thereafter to ensure the win.

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The possibility of the match came under doubt as heavy rains lashed the venue before the start. With a persistent drizzle continuing till the start, the officials of the two sides were found protesting about the conditions. But the match started on time as referee Mehdi Abid Charef of Algeria determined the “playability of the pitch”.

 

Mali took the initial advantage dominating the creative zone where Salam Jiddou showed agility and the eye to find his colleagues upfront with regular assists. Mali could well have gone ahead in the sixth minute, when a Jiddou through-pass found Drame unmarked inside the Ghana box. The latter made the mistake of running too deep inside and saw his attempt landing on the side netting. Mali continued to make repeated build-ups as Jiddou and Mohamed Camara took control in the middle of the park.

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As Mali increased pressure on the opposition, the Ghana citadel fell in the 15th minute. The Jiddou-Drame combination in the Mali attack came good this time as the latter showed a better timing and a sense of position to find the net past the Ghana goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim. Ghana was unfortunate in not finding the equaliser in the 41st minute when Ibrahim Sulley’s goal was disallowed by the referee, who hauled up captain Eric Ayiah for an infringement on a Mali defender. The Ghana coach Samuel Fabin protested the referee’s decision saying that the latter “acted too late in calling for the foul after the goal was scored”. The Ghana coach was also bitter at the decision of letting the match happen in conditions which he felt was “not proper for a World Cup match”.

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More than Mali, the heavy underfoot conditions caught Ghana on the wrong foot. This told mostly on its goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim, who failed to make adjustments and kept on making mistakes. The first goal seemed to happen as Ibrahim forgot to guard the near post and allowed Drame’s attempt to sail past his shoulder. His second big mistake happened in the 61st minute when Mali found the insurance goal virtually out of nothing. It happened rather comically as Ibrahim went out of his post to clear a long ball from the Mali midfield and ended up miscuing it to the opposition wing-half Traore. Seeing the Ghana custodian off position, the latter aimed a long chip into the open goal. Ibrahim made quick recovery and reached his position under the bar only see the ball slip out of his hands into the goal as he went for a catch.

Kudus Mohammed pulled one back for Ghana off a 70th minute penalty but the goal seemed to have come a bit too late as Mali effectively blocked its backline making some late replacements. “We had trained adequately in rain to prepare for the conditions. This move helped us in successfully modifying our game and get the breaks in right time,” was how Mali coach Jonas Komla defined his team’s win.

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