FIFA U-17 WC: Sadiq Ibrahim strikes for Ghana

The two-time champion gets off the blocks in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup by vanquishing Colombia 1-0 in a Group A match.

Ghana's Sadiq Ibrahim celebrates after scoring the only goal of the match, against Colombia, in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in New Delhi.   -  AP

Ghana’s campaign to add a third FIFA Under-17 crown to its collection got off to perfect start when the African nation played a counter-attacking game to dismantle Colombia for a 1-0 victory.

MATCH CENTRE

Though Colombia enjoyed most of the possession — 56 percent — it looked shaky at the back, as its centre-backs Thomas Gutierrez and Andres Cifuentes were often caught napping. The two were slow to fall back when the team lost possession.

Ghana, playing 4-4-2, used the left flank for most of its attack. Rashid Al Hasan and Mohammed Aminu, playing slightly behind the two forwards, combined well early on to trouble the Colombian defence. The initial chances, however, came Colombia’s way. Leandro Campaz, playing wide on the left of a three-man forward line, controlled a high ball from the midfield, but his shot from the edge of the box went wide in the 15th minute. A minute later, Etilso Martinez did wonderfully well in the midfield to control play, before sending a through ball to Campaz on the left. The diminutive forward was guilty of holding on to the ball for a little too long, and the Ghana’s goalkeeper, Danlad Ibrahim, stepped out to narrow the angle and deny Colombia the chance to go ahead.

The hot conditions in the national capital definitely affected the players, with the referee allowing them to go in for an unofficial water break in the 20th minute. Ghana slowly started to find its groove, and left-back Rashid galloped up-field and found Eric Aiyah inside the box with a measured pass. The skipper’s first touch was a tad poor, but he controlled the ball near the left touchline and floated a cross, which was met by Sadiq Ibrahim. His header, unfortunately, was not on target.

Ghana’s perseverance seemed to have paid off when Ibrahim found the back of the net in the 28th minute. Najeed Yakubu’s long-range pass from the right was brilliantly controlled by Emmanuel Toku inside the box. His weak effort on goal was deflected into Ibrahim’s path. He slotted the ball home, but it was ruled offside.

Sadiq had to wait for 11 more minutes to get into the score-sheet. Aminu found his captain with a perfectly measured ball from the left of the field and Aiyah did well to see his way past the Colombian defence and roll the ball down the middle. Ibrahim, scampering from the right, made no mistake in tapping it in.

Towards the end of the half, Yadir Meneses, touted as one of the possible stars of this tournament, tried his luck from out left, but his effort flew wide.

The second-half was far more sluggish, with the players showing clear signs of fatigue. Sadiq again showed his skills, selling a dummy to Colombian left-back Robert Mejia, before laying an inviting ball for his onrushing team-mates. Mohammed Iddriss powered up from the midfield, but his effort sailed way over the goalpost in the 59th minute.

The introduction of Deiber Caicedo added some spunk to the Colombian attack, with the forward finding dangerous space on the left of the field. The Ghanaian defence, though, was quick to snuff out any danger.

In the 76th minute, Toku started a wonderful move down the middle, playing a one-two with Aminu, whose effort from the left was parried away by Colombian goalkeeper Kevin Mier for a corner. Aminu, 17, signed by Manchester City in August this year, showed wonderful composure, driving the game from the midfield.

It was end-to-end action in the 80th minute when Aminu tried to wriggle past the Colombian defenders inside the box. His run, however, was thwarted and Colombia quickly counter-attacked with Mejia playing a long ball to Meneses. The playmaker’s pass found Caicedo with oodles of space in the Ghanaian penalty box. Even with no opponents to check him, the substitute’s placement was poor.

Colombian Santiago Barrero, who came on as a substitute in the 68th minute, was stretchered off with three minutes left for close. The forward, making a comeback from a knee injury, will have to wait for the diagnosis from the medical staff to know about his future in the tournament. Earlier in March this year, the No. 9 had a wonderful COPA U-17, where he scored three goals as Colombia finished fourth.

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