Dan Davis takes a look at the standout players in the U-17 World Cup quarter final between Mali and Ghana.
In an all-African tie to decide the first team to contest in the competition’s semi-final, Mali held on to a 2-1 victory, with goals from Drame and Traore enough to see off their Ghanaian opponents.
The result comes after Mali secured their second U-17 African Cup of Nations championship earlier this year against the same opponents, and means that the nation progress to a semi-final tie against either Iran or Spain on Wednesday. Coming into the tie, both Ghana and Mali have proven themselves adept at going forward with great technique and creativity, and only the slight defensive difference between the two teams may have labelled Ghana as the slight favourites to progress – after their last victory in the tournament came in 1995.
In difficult weather conditions at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati, both teams struggled through and attempted to play the football that has brought them so much success so far in the tournament. Mali, however, dominated the majority of passages of play, and took the lead on 15 minutes. Hadji Drame broke through on goal and slotted his effort home past Black Starlets goalkeeper Danlad Ibrahim, marking his third goal of the tournament.
Ghana were lucky not to be two goals down just before the half hour mark, after Mali’s Ibrahim Kane wrong-footed the opponent’s defence with a scintillating run down the left flank, before Konate’s effort towards goal was blocked and scrambled clear.
Just after the hour mark, Mali were able to double their lead after a dreadful mistake from the Ghana goalkeeper. Ibrahim misjudged his rush from the goal line to make an attempted clearance outside of the penalty area, but Djemoussa Traore was able to beat him with a long-range effort that found the back of the net.
With twenty minutes to go, Ghana halved the deficit, after Mohammed converted a penalty following a foul on Sadiq Ibrahim. However, the Eaglets were able to see off the rest of the game and secure their second appearance in the last four in as many tournaments.
Here’s how the most impressive players performed at the Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium.
Hadji Drame was born in 2000, and in a short playing career has proven himself more than capable of performing on the biggest stage. The Eaglet has made five appearances in major FIFA tournaments, but has scored three goals despite his wide starting position. His goals have helped lead his country to four wins and just a single defeat, in fixtures where he has featured for Mali.
The starlet began the game out wide for his country, and proved his capacity for lung-bursting runs down the touchline, as well as shorter passes to help control the game in such difficult conditions. In front of a crowd of 3706, Drame took his first major chance of the game with aplomb. The Eaglet held his run expertly, and was fed through on goal. Drame used his pace to break clear on the target, and from a difficult angle, he lashed home high into the roof of the net, leaving the goalkeeper well and truly beaten.
As the tide of the game began to turn more to Ghana’s favour, Drame tracked back for his team and always looked to be igniting attacks down both wings. His work-rate and technique allowed Drame to seize control in such a difficult tie, and he is sure to have a large impact throughout the rest of this tournament, and throughout his footballing career.
The Mali starlet scored his third tournament goal, with his fantastic long range finish capitalising on a misjudgement from Ghanaian goalkeeper, Danlad Ibrahim. Before his substitution in the 93rd minute, the wide-left midfielder impressed both his coach, Jonas Komla, and the watching crowd with his understated work down his flank.
On a pitch that held up the ball due to the torrential downpour, Traore was still able to pose danger for the Black Starlets’ defence. And just after the hour mark, the wide man got what he deserved with a sublime finish.
As the Ghanaian goalkeeper misjudged a clearance, he sliced the ball out wide. Traore seized on the mistake, making use of the sodden pitch holding up possession, and drove forward towards the penalty area. With one look up, he saw Ibrahim struggling to get back between the sticks, and opened up his foot, letting a fantastic, curled effort towards goal. The Black Starlets’ goalkeeper could only watch as the ball caressed his palm before nestling into the roof the net.
Apart from his goal, Traore found himself able to widen play when the game became bogged down in the middle of the park, and used his vast array of passing to the best of his ability – which certainly became a key part in ensuring his nation’s progress to the tournament’s semi-finals.
The Ghanaian forward has made it clear that he dreams of playing for Premier League giant, Chelsea, and, although his ambitions of playing on the Stamford Bridge turf will require a ludicrous amount of determination, he went some way to demonstrating his talent despite his team’s elimination.
Ibrahim is capable of playing either as a striker or winger for his nation, and this versatility, coupled with his explosive pace, led to Paa Kwesi picking the player for this tournament, after his absence from this year’s U-17 Africa Cup of Nations.
The player has enjoyed a successful tournament, before his nation’s elimination at the quarter final stage. Ibrahim scored Ghana’s first goal of the World Cup, as he led his country to a 1-0 victory against Colombia, and also helped them to the round of 16.
Following an upbringing focused around football, Ibrahim began proper training when he joined the ‘Right to Dream’ Academy, and since then has used this experience to mould him to a player developed well beyond his years. The Ghanaian has revealed that Chelsea winger Eden Hazard is his greatest idol, and clearly possesses some of the Belgian’s traits, with his electric pace and high standard of deliveries on show despite the narrow defeat to Mali.
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