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Mali in round-of-16 with back-to-back wins
In a one-sided affair, African champions Mali defeated New Zealand by three goals to one in their last Group B match of the FIFA Under-17 World Cup here at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium on Thursday. Goals by Salam Giddou, Djemoussa Traore and Lassana N'diaye were enough to book them a spot in the knockout stages of the competition.
New Zealand, who looked down and out for about 70 minutes of the game, suddenly managed to spark into life when a rare attack from the left-wing saw Elijah Just provide a perfect cross to the far post — over the goalkeeper — to substitute Charles Spragg, who nodded home and reduced the deficit to 1-2.
But any lingering hope of getting back into the match was put to bed when Mali's right-back Fode Konate, on an overlapping run, provided an exemplary cross to sprinting N'diaye, who made no mistake in slotting it behind the goalkeeper Zac Jones.
Earlier in the match, New Zealand started the game on a strong footing. In the third minute, after winning the ball in a dangerous position, All Whites' midfielder Just played a defence-splitting pass to skipper Max Mata, whose shot though was directed straight at the goalkeeper. The miss proved costly for the returning captain — who returned to the side after missing the second game through suspension — as the team hardly manage to get much of possession from there on and didn't have a single shot on goal till half-time. It was all Mali after that.
Giddou scored a blinder of a goal to give Mali lead from around 25 yards. The screamer came after a sprinting run from Djemoussa, who saw no options up front and made a back pass to Giddou.
Assist-provider Djemoussa then became the goal scorer early in the second half after he made a solo run from the midfield and curl a shot from just outside the box into far post to double his team's lead. Djemoussa was probably the brightest of all Mali stars on the field as he took down opposition’s defenders at will.
Jonas Komla's boys were not pleased with a two-goal cushion and kept on pushing forward for more goals. Mali almost scored another when Djemoussa, after another sprinting run into the box, squared the ball to Konate outside the box. Right-back's shot on first touch almost went in but ricocheted off the post to N'diaye, who couldn't keep his header on target in front of an empty net.
Danny Hay-coached side were desperately in need for some hope and it came through Spragg's goal but the game returned to the old scenario in the very next minute as Mali once again regained their 2-goal cushion through Traore, whose shot was inches wide off the far post.
After making it 3-1, the team led by Jonas Komla came close to scoring their fourth goal in the closing minute as they kept pushing at the tired defensive wall of New Zealand but couldn't score any further as the referee blew the final whistle to end New Zealand's misery.
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