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Mali look to seal knockout berth
Heavyweights Mali will look to seal a knockout spot with a win against New Zealand here on Thursday in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup. However, a draw will also be enough for the African cup of nation champions to take them into the round-of-16. New Zealand, on the other hand, require nothing less than a win to get the second spot here at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Thursday.
Mali, after a 3-0 win in the second match against Turkey on Monday in Mumbai, are still the firm favourites to grab all three points against a less-fancied Oceania team, who have managed just a 1-1 draw in their first game against a weak Turkey and suffered a 2-4 loss against the group toppers and already qualified Paraguay.
The West African coach Jonas Komla sets up his team in a well-organised 4-1-4-1 and are good at both defensive and offensive side of the game. With two quick wingers — Djemousa Traore and Hadji Drame — Mali is pretty quick with their defence-to-attack transition and with the predatory instinct of striker Lassana N'Diaye, who has two goals in two matches, they will pose real questions to side to a given day.
The team showed versatility in the first game after going 2-0 down to Paraguay. Playing with possession, the African side unlocked the deep-lying South American defence twice in the space of 20 minutes to restore parity. Skillful midfielder Salam Giddou played a key role in that comeback. His ability to beat players at will provides variation to the wing and is well-supported by captain Mohamed Camara doing the dirty work alongside Mahamadou Samake.
Mali was seen practicing a lot of short corners and are probably planning to find the weakness in New Zealand's set-pieces' defending ability.
New Zealand coach Danny Hay must be asking his side to take confidence from the fact that they were leading the game against the Paraguayans by 2-1 at one point before losing it 2-4 and their confidence should be boosted by the return of captain Max Mata, who was shown two yellow cards against Turkey in the first game.
The obvious weakness for the side has been the ability to convert chances in front of the goal. They have three goals in this competition — two of them were own goals.
No wonder the All Whites were seen working on their shooting during the training session as the strikers were seen practicing first-touch shooting at the goal through crosses from the flanks.
The team used a 4-1-3-2 formation against a dummy 4-1-4-1 formation (Mali's preferred formation) at the JLN's main pitch during their last practice session.
In the other match of the group, already qualified Paraguay will face Turkey in Navi Mumbai on Thursday. Paraguay will look to keep their unbeaten run going, while Turkey on the other will look to register their first win of the tournament after a draw and a defeat in the first two matches.
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