Starlets crash out! … Beaten 2-1 by well-drilled Mali side

Ghana

Mali enjoyed the better part of the rain-soaked pitch against Ghana

African champions Mali ended Ghana’s grit dreams of a third FIFA Under-17 World Cup glory with a 2-1 defeat at the rain-soaked soggy 35,000 capacity Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium pitch in the northeast port city of Guwahati on Saturday.

The heavy rains, which started over three hours before the game, rendered the pitch waterlogged in certain areas. However, officials decided the ground was suitable for play, forcing a crowd of only 3,706 spectators to watch.

In a repeat of the Under-17 African Cup of Nations final in Gabon in May this year, the game touted as the best attacking side versus the best defensive side, saw the African champions again proving their superior tactical prowess over the Ghana team as they came out of the blocks early and unsettled the Black Starlets with some confident play, forcing their opponents to recoil into defence in the early moments of the game.

Players from both sides struggled with the turf for control of the ball, with the turf coming out victors most often as the ball got held up in water, disrupting the rhythm of the game for both sides –  Ghana being the hardest hit.

However, Mail looked a more prepared side for the weather and this was confirmed by head coach Jonas Kokou Komla who noted at the post match press conference that they had prepared for such conditions in Ethiopia before the tournament and also  perfected it a day before the game against Ghana.

Mali had the first real chance of the game on the fifth minute mark when Djemoussa Traore exquisite through-ball found Salam Jiddou but he shot wide.

The Ghanaians struggled to play their normal passing game due to the conditions allowing the Les Aiglonnets of Mali to enjoy a lion’s share of play in the first quarter of the game and it came as no fluke when they took the lead in the 15th minute through Hadji Drame’s perfect strike for a much-deserved lead.

As the game wore on, it became increasingly difficult for the Ghanaians to play their normal game of passing the ball quickly and running in behind the opposition defence as the ball kept getting stuck beneath their feet, with Mali, meanwhile enjoying the fast-paced, end-to-end battle.

Ghana momentarily got their rhythm in the closing stages of the first stanza and got the ball behind goalkeeper Youssouf Koita through the foot of Ibrahim Sulley but the goal was disallowed by Algerian Referee Mehdi Abid Charef, judging that there was a foul on Ibrahim Kane by Kudus Mohammed during an aerial battle.

Poor finishing on the part of the Malians robbed them of more goals going into the half-time break.

Ten minutes into the second half, coach Paa Kwesi Fabin introduced striker Ibrahim Sadiq for Sulley. His introduction was to give Ghana some fire-power through the left flank, but the end product left much to be desired.

Against the run-of play, Djemoussa Traore extended Mali’s lead in the 61st minute as a howler from goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim all but gifted the goal to Mali. Danlad had raced off his line to clear a ball but he mis-kicked handling Traore a chance to lob the ball over his head. Yet with a chance to push the ball over the bar, Ibrahim rather directed the ball into his own net.

Nine minutes later substitute Sadiq was brought down in the box by Fode Konate and the resultant kick was converted by Mohammed to reduce the goal deficit, bringing Ghana back into this encounter from nowhere with 20 minutes remaining to play.

However, the final minutes could not yield any meaningful result for the two-time world champions as they failed to get the much needed equaliser – and thus exiting the tournament rather painfully.

FROM RAYMOND ACKUMEY, GUWAHATI

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