Mumbai: Last edition runners-up, Mali are back in Mumbai to take on European giants Spain in the second semifinal of the Fifa U-17 World Cup here on Wednesday.
African champions Mali played their first two league games here and after 2-3 loss to Paraguay, they dismantled Turkey 3-0 to announce their arrival in the tournament. They went on to beat New Zealand 3-1 in New Delhi to qualify before hammering Iraq 5-1 in the round of 16 game in Goa. In the quarters, it was an all-Africa affair in Guwahati but Mali were superior on a wet pitch in their 2-1 win over Ghana. In fact, during Mali’s league games here, it rained on both occasions.
“We know the pitch here and it will be little bit of an advantage for us. We are used to such conditions back home whether wet or dry,” said Eagles’ coach Jonas Komla. La Rojita’s campaign was like that of Mali. After losing to Brazil 1-2, they thrashed Niger 4-0 and DPR Korea 2-0 comfortably. The European U-17 champions had a tough round of 16 game against France and won 2-1 through a late penalty by Abel Ruiz. In the quarter-finals it was relatively easy passage in a 3-1 win over Iran with Ruiz scoring again to take his tournament goal tally to four.
The teams play in contrasting styles with Mali having tall powerful players who love to attack with long balls and Spain relying on short passing. Mali will be without captain and mid-fielder Mohamed Camara, who was suspended for the semifinal through the accumulation of yellow cards against Ghana. Mali have in form Youssouf Koita in goal. Striker Lassana N’Diaye has scored five goals but has also missed at least five sitters in the two games here and Mali will have to convert their chances against technically sound Spain.
Spain have won almost everything in football though in this tournament, a title has eluded. Spain coach Santiago Denia, however, said they are under no pressure. Like Spain, Mali too are yet to win this competition. They made a maiden final entry the last time but lost to Nigeria....