By Samindra Kunti in Guwahati and Kolkata
October 23 – England progressed to the last four of the U-17 World Cup for the first time in history with a commanding 4-1 win over the United States. Mali, Spain and Brazil complete the semi-final quartet, but the African champions’ qualification was overshadowed by diabolical playing conditions in a rain-soaked Guwahati.
Mali reached their second consecutive semi-final at the U-17 level courtesy of 2-1 win over Ghana in an all-African quarter-final, but the game, a repeat of the U-17 African Cup of Nations final, “should have been abandoned” according to Ghana coach Pa Kwesi Fabin, who did little to hide his displeasure at the match officials.
Torrential rain had been beating down in Assam for two days, but the match officials decided that the game was not to be postponed. In the second half in particular the ball stopped rolling and players slipped everywhere with the match resembling a mud fight. Ghana struggled to adapt and a howler from their 14-year old goalkeeper Danlan Ibrahim, led to Djemoussa Traore’s winning goal.
“Following heavy rainfall ahead of the quarter-final between Mali and Ghana in Guwahati, the Referee assessed the playability of the pitch upon arriving at the stadium and determined that the match could be played. Both teams were made aware of this decision,” read a joint-statement from local organisers and FIFA. “FIFA and the LOC are closely monitoring the situation ahead of the semi-final.”
“We’ve not encountered anything like this before,” said Kwesi Fabin. “I thought the game should have been abandoned and played in some another time but those who are organizing they said we have to play so we played.”
Mali will travel to Mumbai to carry Africa’s flag forward with a semi-final encounter against European champions Spain, who progressed with an imperious victory against Iran. Spain hogged the ball in the first half with more than 70% of possession, resulting in goals from Abdel Ruiz and Sergio Gomez. The Spanish dominated from start to finish and, bar a 70th minute scare, an Iranian goal from substitute Saeid Karimi, cruised to a 3-1 win.
The Spanish under coach Denia Santi are favourites against Mali after knocking out heavily fancied France as well 2-1 in the round of sixteen. The Africans were runners-up two years ago in Chile when rivals Nigeria trumped them in the final.
England were the second team to reach the semi-finals after outclassing the United States 4-1 in Goa. Striker Rhian Brewster, who had a disappointing round of 16 game against Japan, came of age with a vintage hat-trick. The United States were outplayed from the start with England cutting through the American defense like cake. Morgan Gibbs-White put the game out of the US’ reach with England’s third goal in the 64th minute. The United States rallied late following a strike from their striker Josh Sargent, but were no match for the Young Lions in an end-to-end game.
“We’ve already created a little bit of a history back in England, but we will just recover tomorrow and stick to our processes,” said England coach Steve Cooper.
In the semi-finals in Guwahati England will face an uphill battle, meeting the boys from Brazil. They eliminated Germany 2-1 in a high-octane game in Kolkata in front of a sell-out crowd of 66,613, the highest attendance of the tournament, at the iconic Salt Lake Stadium.
Jann-Fiete Arp gave Germany the lead after 21 minutes from the penalty spot. Brazil had begun brightly, but Germany out-manoeuvered their opponents tactically with their front players tracking back. After the break a drilled Germany, who had struggled with the humidity in both Kochi and Goa in previous games, tired as Brazil upped the space and in the 71st minute Kolkata, with rampant support for the boys in yellow, got the goal it craved – substitute Weverson smashing the ball home from inside the box.
Winger Paulinho completed the turnaround six minutes later with a wonder strike from 25 yards out. The Brazilians went charging to the stands, sparking a delirium among the Indian fans. In a nail-bitting and frantic final six minutes of added time, Germany pushed forward with goalkeeper Luca Plogmann aiding in attack, but Germany failed to find a late equaliser.
After the match German coach Christian Wueck blasted American referee Jair Marrufo. “Did you see the game?” asked an outraged Wueck sarcastically. “[Jan] Boller had an elbow in his eye just before the second goal. The difference was the referee.”
Brazil march on with England waiting in Assam. The U-17 World Cup will conclude with the final in Kolkata on October 28.
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