By Sirshendu Panth
Kolkata, Oct 27 (IANS) Pride and consolation would be at stake in a clash of Latin American skill and African speed and raw power as Brazil take on Mali in the third place play-off of the Under-17 FIFA World Cup here on Saturday.
The match at the Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan promises to be high on entertainment with two of the most attacking sides of the tournament coming face to face, albeit after crashing out of the title race.
But while Brazil would strive to salvage some pride after the English disaster, a victory would come as a consolation for Mali’s spectacualar display over the past three weeks.
The free-flowing game that the two losing semi-finalists have dished out so far is likely to fill the hearts of the fans with hope for an encore, providing the perfect build up for the summit duel between England and Spain at the same venue later in the evening.
Brazil’s rich football history, inclusive of three crowns in this age-group World Cup, is all too well-known. But Mali also are no nine day wonders at this level,
During three previous appearances, the West African nation came up with their best performance in 2015, finishing runners up to champions Nigeria.
In the current edition, they started with a loss to Paraguay, but then raised their game to outsmart Turkey and New Zealand in the group games, before crushing Iraq 5-1 in the round of 16 and pipping Ghana 2-1 in the quarters. However, Mali’s bid to play back to back finals ended in a 1-3 defeat to European powerhouse Spain in the semi-final.
South American giants Brazil in contrast, won all their group fixtures, beginning with a 2-1 morale-boosting triumph over Spain. The Samba magicians blanked Honduras 3-0 in the pre-quarters and rallied back after being a goal down to show Germany the door (2-1) in the quarter-final. But their party ended on Wednesday with a 1-3 loss to England in a last four battle.
Brazil’s game — centred around neat passing and beautiful build-ups, culminating in penetrating attacks — is heavily dependent on the success of upfronters Paulinho and Lincoln and playmaker Alan, with the two wing backs Wesley and Weverson moving up constantly to keep the supply line going.
However, the jogo bonito (beautiful game) had hit a wall against England, who policed to submission Paulinho, Lincoln and Alan and took control of the midfield.
This curbed the Brazilians’ natural flair, but they still had their chances, and coach Carlos Amadeu was left ruing the missed opportunities.
“We had our opportunities in the first half. We played a good game but we could not score all goals today. That was our problem,” said coach Amadeu after the match.
Amadeu would be hoping for better finishing from his charges, but has to be wary about the strongly built African side’s hard tackles and quick-silver moves.
Under coach Jonas Komla, Mali have impressed with their lightning raids, and ability to switch into the attack mode from a defensive position with two or three touches.
Statistically, they are the best attacking side with 157 attempts at the opponents’ goal, and Brazilian shotstopper Gabriel Brazao, who heads the list of top saves (19), could have his hands full.
Mali’s lethal striker Lassana Ndiaye is in contention for the golden boot with six goals, the same as Spaniard Abel Ruiz and one less than the leader Englishman Rhian Brewster.
The Brazilian defenders also have to keep an eye on Hadji Drame for his scoring prowess, while attacking midfielder Djemoussa Traore will be crucial to Komla’s scheme of things.
Another heartening development for the Africans is the return of their central midfielder Mohamad Camara, who had to sit out the Spain match due to double booking.
Komla sounded positive.
“We started with 24 teams and now we are among the best four in the world. So it doesn’t disappoint us much. We’ll try our best to claim the number three spot from Brazil,” he said.
Head-to-head, the two sides have met only once in the tourney, but the group match finished goalless. That was way back in 1999, and one of the teams have to be victors in Saturday’s tie.
Mali: Alkalifa Coulibaly, Boubacar Haidara, Djemoussa Traore, Fode Konate, Mamadi Fofana, Mohamed Camara, Hadji Drame, Abdoulaye Dabo, Seme Camara, Salam Giddou, Mamadou Traore, Mahamane Toure, Soumaila Doumbia, Siaka Sidibe, Abdoulaye Diaby, Youssouf Koita, Mamadou Samake, Ibrahim Kane, Lassana N’Diaye, Cheick Oumar Doucoure and Massire Gassama.
Brazil: Gabriel Brazao, Lucas Alexandre, Yuri Sena; Wesley, Luan Candido, Weverson, Lucas Halter, Matheus Stockl, Rodrigo Guth and Vitor Eduardo; Alanzinho, Marcos Antonio, Rodrigo Nestor, Victor Bobsin, Victor Yan and Vitinho; Brenner, Lincoln, Paulinho and Yuri Alberto.
(sirshendu Panth can be contacted at [email protected])
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