Mali held off Ghana’s late pressure to record a 2-1 victory in the quarterfinals of the 2017 Fifa U-17 World Cup on Saturday.
The fixture was a repeat of this year’s U-17 Africa Cup of Nations final in Gabon where Mali successfully defended their title with a 1-0 win over the Black Starlets.
Hadji Drame gave Mali an early lead before Djemoussa Traore doubled it in the second half. Kudus Mohammed scored a penalty to half the deficit for Ghana but the African champions held on and to become the first team to qualify for the semi-finals.
Les Aiglonnets were on point with their tactical gameplan as well as execution and reduced the skillful Ghana side to mere onlookers as they mounted attack after attack in the first half at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.
In poor playing conditions amidst heavy rains, as Ghana struggled to get the ball on their feet and build their game, Mali shone through with their simple yet effective approach.
On 15 minutes, poor making from Ghana saw Salam Jiddou feed Hadji Drame who put Mali in the lead with a perfect strike which had goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim rooted to his spot.
The Black Starlets thought they had grabbed the equalizer five minutes from the break when Sulley Ibrahim found the back of the net but Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef disallowed the goal with a late whistle signaling teammate Kudus Mohammed had fouled his marker before the ball reached the Ghana number 7.
Ghana looked much better in the second half but got punished just after the hour mark. Djemoussa Traore extended the lead after Danlad all but gifted the goal to Mali. The 14-year-old shot-stopper raced off his line for a subpar clearance and followed it up by handling Traore’s shot into his own net.
A penalty midway through the second half raised Ghana’s hopes of coming back into the quarter-final.
Sadiq Ibrahim who came on for Sulley made an immediate impact by win a penalty for Ghana. In one of his marauding moves, he had defender Konate fouling him in the penalty area. Kudus Mohammed stepped up and converted the penalty, bringing Ghana back into the encounter with twenty minutes plus stoppage time remaining to play.
However, a solid defending saw Mali hold on for a fine victory – the third in five months over coach Paa Kwesi Fabin’s boys – 1-0 in the Afcon final in May; 2-1 in a friendly in Abu Dhabi and Saturday’s win.
Mali, now in the semifinals, will face the winner of the Spain-Iran encounter next Wednesday in Navi Mumbai.