FIFA U-17 WC: Ruiz brace sets up all-European final

In what was touted to be a battle between Spain's finesse and Mali's force, the Europeans swept aside their Malian opponents with classy counter-attacking football.

Spain's class proved too much for Mali as an Abel Ruiz brace propelled the U-17 European champion into the final of the FIFA U-17 World cup.   -  PRASHANT NAKWE

Spain's class proved too much for Mali as an Abel Ruiz brace inspired the U-17 European champion to a comprehensive 3-1 win in the semifinal of the FIFA U-17 World cup here on Wednesday.

Read: Brewster hat-trick powers England past Brazil to final

In what was touted to be a battle between Spain's finesse and Mali's force, the Europeans swept aside their Malian opponents with classy counter-attacking football.

Match Centre

The game was end to end from the get-go with both teams going agonisingly close to taking the lead within the first 10 minutes. In the third minute, Spain's Sergio Gomez missed from within 10 yards after a cross from Abel Ruiz in the right flank reached the No.10 unmarked. His volley was spectacularly saved by 'keeper Youssouf Koita.

Read: Mali remains upbeat in defeat

In the 10th minute, it was Mali's turn to squander a clear chance. A through ball down the middle released the Mali attacker, who poked it past the onrushing Spanish 'keeper Alvaro Fernandez. The ball, however, hit the side netting. 

The crowd at the D.Y. Pail was treated to attacking football as neither team held back. Mali stuck to its game plan of taking shots from outside the box while Spain was happy to press on the counter. 

In fact, Spain's ultra-attacking 4-2-4 formation, when in possession, caused the Malian defence problems on the break. And the inevitable happened in the 19th minute.

Abel Ruiz converted the penalty to give Spain the lead after defender Abdoulaye Diaby clipped Cesar Gelabert's heels in the penalty box. Ruiz stroked the ball down the middle as 'keeper dived to his left. 

Mali pushed forward and tried to exploit the large gap in Spain's midfield. And it continued popping aim at Spain's goal but to no avail. 

Spain was happy to soak Mali's pressure and in the 33rd minute almost doubled its tally on the counter when Ruiz's side-footed finish, capping off a slick move from the left flank, missed the right-hand post by a whisker.

More chances presented themselves to both teams, with Mali especially going close in the 43rd minute when Cheick Oumar Doucoure's header courtesy a Mali corner missed the mark.

That proved costly as moments later, Spain doubled its advantage after Ruiz rounded off a slick move with a classy side-footed finish past the 'keeper. A defence-splitting through ball from Cesar Gelabert found Ruiz on his skates and the Spanish captain gleefully doubled his tally.

After the half-time break, Spain continued its domination with Ruiz getting countless chances to get his hat-trick and triple Spain's lead.

But Mali held strong and peppered Spain's goal with long-range attempts and one such attempt will go on to change the dynamics of the game.

A turning point that wasn't to be

In the 62nd minute, Doucoure received the ball in midfield and let one fly, rattling the crossbar. The followup header was not on target and Spain restarted its attack. However, replays on the giant screen showed Doucoure's effort crossed the line, provoking an angry reaction from the Mali bench.

Referee Ryuji Sato had to stop play and calm the Mali coaching staff, with even Spain's coach Santi disapprovingly wagging his finger at the Mali bench, with the Japanese referee brandishing a yellow card to one of the officials for dissent. 

Spain then sealed the deal in the 71st minute after Ferran Torres leaped above the Mali defence to make it 3-0 in what proved to be a fruitful end to a smart move. 

Mali did pull one back in the 74th minute, with its top-scorer Lassana N'diaye bagging his sixth of the tournament to give the African U-17 champion some hope. However, it proved to be nothing more than a consolation goal as Spain held on to set up an all-European final against an England side it beat in this year's U-17 European Championship.

  Dugout videos