Ghana see off Niger … Meet rivals Mali in quarter-finals

• Ghana players celebrate after scoring the opening goal against Niger at the D.Y Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai yesterdayZongo Development

• Ghana players celebrate after scoring the opening goal against Niger at the D.Y Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai yesterdayZongo Development

GHANA’S Black Starlets yesterday booked a smooth passage into the quarter finals of the ongoing FIFA Under-17 World Cup in India with a 2-0 win over West African neighbours Niger at the DY Patil Stadium, in Navi Mumbai.
A penalty strike from captain Eric Ayiah in the 45th minute and an 89 minute terrific goal from substitute Richard Danso was all the Ghanaians needed to make sure of progress.
Yesterday’s win over the West African minnows was the fourth in succession as the Nigeriens lost to the same side twice in Ghana in a friendly international and again fell 6-5 on penalties in the semi-finals of the African Under-17 championships in Gabon in May, this year.
For the Starlets, the ultimate quest to advance to the quarter finals stage and beyond took centre stage right from the blast of the whistle of Portuguese referee Artur Soares Dias as they took their destiny into their own hands – stringing some delightful passes among themselves and reducing their opponents to mere shadow chasers.
Winger Edmund Arko Mensah and skipper Eric Ayiah kept the goal area of the Young Menas boiling for the better half of the first quarter of the game and keeping  Khaled Lawali the busier of the two goalkeepers.
With the Ghanaians growing very confident in the game, Lawali’s heroism on the day sparked off in the 18th minute when he kept at bay a shot from Arko Mensah before responding perfectly to a goal-bound drive from the same foot in 25th minute.
In the 37th minute, the Niger shot-stopper went down to save an Ibrahim Sulley opportunity to keep the scores even.
On the 40 minute mark, defender Najeeb Yabuku drew another fantastic save from Lawali when he sent in a teasing cross which was zooming home.
Five minutes later, Ayiah who kept having a go at the defence got behind the wall this time round only to be brought down by defender Farouk Idrissa for a penalty which was put home by Ayiah himself to put his side ahead just before going into the break.
The Young Menas showed fighting power in the second half, but their efforts were reduced to nothing as the Ghana midfield marshalled around Isaac Gyamfi, Bismark Owusu and Gabriel Leveh kept the screws on them in the middle.
Emmanuel Toku drew yet another sublime save from Lawali in the 64th minute with a curling strike that would have resulted in the second goal if not for the brave keeper’s effort.
The Starlets should have been up by two goals moments later but defender Gideon Mensah failed to connect home from close range with only the goal post at his mercy. It was, perhaps, the biggest miss of the tournament.
The game from then on became a one-sided affair and it was just a matter of time for another goal to be recorded and the opportunity came in the 84th minute when Idrissa for the second time committed a foul in the box by hacking down Toku. The ensuing spot-kick brought again the heroism of Lawali who saved the effort from Ayiah.
However, in the 89th minute substitute Danso who came on for injured Toku made sure Lawali picked another ball from his net as he drove home a thunderbolt to all but end the fairy tale journey of the Nigeriens who were making their debut at a FIFA-organised tournament in any age group.
Before the game, Africa was guaranteed another slot in the last 16.
However, come Saturday, Africa will lose one candidate as Ghana will be coming up against the silver medalist from the Chile 2015 edition, Mali, at the Indira  Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati.
It will be a revenge match for Ghana against their continental rivals who had beaten them 1-0 in the final of the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations.

FROM RAYMOND ACKUMEY (Courtesy: Ministry of Youth & Sports)

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