Two-time African U-17 champions Mali thrashed New Zealand 3-1 to enter the knockout rounds of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. Goals from Jiddou Salam, Djemoussa Traore and Lassana N’Diaye were enough to end New Zealand’s hopes of directly making it to the round of 16.
From the get-go, it was apparent that Mali came into the game with the intention of dominating possession. Throughout the course of the game, they executed it to perfection. Having worked extensively on their short passes during training the previous evening, they constantly kept the ball and didn’t look in any rush to create chances.
New Zealand sat back in the early period, likely hoping to absorb the early pressure and then later pick their opponents off on the break should the chance arise.
However, Mali didn’t allow New Zealand the room to break pace and the African team grew in confidence as the minutes wore on. They looked the likelier to score and the breakthrough arrived in the 18th minute when Jiddou Salam launched a thundering shot into the top-right corner following Djemoussa Traore’s lay-off. Mali were in front, and deservedly so.
The rest of the half saw Mali patiently keep the ball while New Zealand, now a goal behind, pushed forward in search of an equaliser before the break.
However, they only managed a solitary shot on target in the first half and even that wasn’t enough to significantly trouble Mali shot-stopper Youssouf Koita.
The second half saw Mali continue to dominate and they doubled their lead in the 541st minute when Djemoussa Traore’s shot rifled into the back of the net. The African side continued to create chances and should have been 3-0 up when Lassana N’Diaye headed wide from close range after New Zealand goalkeeper Zac Jones parried Fode Konate’s shot straight into his path.
Eight minutes after this, New Zealand pulled one back through second half substitute Charles Spragg, giving New Zealand some hope of pulling off an upset.
However, those hopes were ended once and for all when Lassana N’Diaye finished well from close range to restore Mali’s advantage and snuff out New Zealand’s brief resistance.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay was quick to admit that Mali were the better side. “We knew that Mali are a dominant side. African teams have dominated this tournament for a long time and Mali, being African champions, were absolutely brilliant today,” he said in the post-match press conference.