Serbia and Mali played a thoroughly entertaining semi-final contest in the U20 World Cup. The Eastern European side’s commitment to their principles saw them through, though Mali made them work hard for their victory and it took extra time to settle matters.
Here is a tactical report of the top 5 players involved in the match.
Andrija Zigkovic was a joy to watch throughout this match and he was the player that got you invested when he picked up the ball. Deployed on the right-hand side, he regularly drifted infield and combined excellently with his midfield compatriots.
With a wonderful yet deadly left-foot, he had plenty of invention and positivity in his game and was lively throughout proceedings. He displayed great awareness to anticipate that error that lead to his opening goal and produced a cool, calm finish to put his side ahead.
It was a regular occurrence to see pull off a series of neat, reverse passes and movements to get his team into promising areas.
On the opposite end of the pitch, one of Mali’s most impressive attacking outlets was Adama Traore and it’s easy to see why he is so highly courted. He showcased his exceptional close control, superb first touch, dribbling ability and vision in the tightest of areas and was not afraid to roam around the pitch. He was the instigator of a large number of Mali attacks and was generally the one looking to take a chance, jink past a player and make things happen.
Too often we see players at this level play a safe game, that made all the more admirable for the way Traore played his game and his quality in the final third was there to see.
Serbia adopted a high-energy pressing style from the off in which they regularly had many pushing up to panic Mali and steal the ball in vital areas. A key go in this tactic was Sergej Milinkovic, who was the most advanced of the midfield trio in Veljko Paunovic’s side.
He had the drive and determination and fitness levels to pinch the ball off any Mali player in his wake. That was not all though, as he did provide evidence of his commendable technical ability, playing with a real swagger and a confidence. With a considerably tall frame, he is physically strong and was able to shrug off any defender who tried to thwart him. His range of passing meant that he was often able to dictate play.
One of Mali’s most solid performers was Youssouf Kone, who played as a left-back. Not only was he relatively sound defensively at cutting out Serbia attacks, he provided a useful option down the left flank, constantly overlapping to get involved.
In all truth, it was he who singlehandedly got Mali back in the game with a fantastic, powerful drive that crept away from the reach of Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic. Throughout the duration of the game he combined effectively with teammates and was far more comfortable on the ball than some of the other Mali players. He delivered a notable amount of teasing crosses and was one of Mali’s best performers.
The matchwinner certainly deserves his place on the list for obvious reasons, having booked Serbia’s place in the final and taken them an extra step towards glory. But Saponjic is not in purely based of his strike. After an early dominant spell, the Serbs dropped in performance levels and it was Mali who looked the more assured in possession and did most of the probing.
But in Saponjic, a second half substitute, Serbia had a willing runner who was prepared to chase down lost causes and drag his team through. Not only that though, he had the intelligence, the touch and the movement to be a real threat for the Mali defenders. He had the awareness to anticipate his teammate winning the flick-on from a corner and duly diverted goalwards in what eventually turned out to be the winning goal. It is quite astonishing that this player had such an impact on this game and yet was the youngest member of the Serbia squad, aged just 17.
For more reading on the U20 World Cup, head this way.
Manchester City fan and Roma follower. Youth football enthusiast. Dislikes dodgy squad numbers. Shoot magazine's England national team blogger. Co-run themaineblues.com. I was there for that Aguero goal.
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