U17 World Cup: Desire for redemption drives Mali to semi spot
A few months after losing to Morocco in the U-17 AFCON semi-finals, Mali defeated the same opponents to claim a berth in the last four of Indonesia 2023.
Mali have advanced to the semi-finals of the U-17 World Cup
They edged Morocco 1-0 in last eight, gaining revenge for AFCON defeat
Captain Diarra, midfielder Barry and coach Coulibaly spoke to FIFA
To understand the particular joy exhibited by the Mali players at full-time of their 1-0 quarter-final victory over Morocco at the FIFA U-17 World Cup™, it is necessary to wind the clock back to 14 May of this year. That day, the same teams went went head-to head in the semi-finals of the CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria.
That match was a tight affair, with neither team able to make the breakthrough over the 90 minutes. In the ensuing penalty shootout, although Mali managed to build a seemingly decisive lead, things went off the rails when forward Ibrahim Kanate and skipper Ibrahim Diarra both had their efforts saved by the impressive Taha Benrhozil. A few minutes later, Morocco sealed their place in the continental final.
Fast-forward to the present, and to Surakarta’s Manahan Stadium on Saturday. In the 81st minute, with the last-eight duel scoreless and with a profligate Mali likely fearing another shoot-ut, Kanate turned brilliantly down the left and drove into the box towards the onrushing Benrhozil. Although his shot was desperately deflected onto the post by a returning Moroccan defender, his team-mate Diarra was well positioned to sweep the ball into the net and send his country into the semi-finals.
After experiencing great misfortune in Algeria, the two Ibrahims were suddenly transformed into national heroes, redeeming themselves in superb fashion. “We’ve managed to get a bit of revenge and redemption today,” Diarra told FIFA. “At the Cup of Nations, Ibrahim and I both missed a penalty, but that’s football, and we didn’t give up. We bounced back, and that’s great.”
In the players’ post-match interviews, it was clear that the heartbreaking defeat to Morocco in Constantine was still fresh in their minds. “I’d already been subbed out before the penalties,” recalled Mahamoud Barry, one of the stars of the 5-0 Round-of-16 triumph over Mexico in Surabaya. “Tonight we had to be mentally strong, because what happened at the Cup of Nations was tough to take and we had to work hard to come back from it.
“Before the match, we said to each other that there would not be a repeat of that, and that we would win this time around. It was really difficult, but we weren’t ever afraid that we’d end up with the same outcome. We believed in ourselves, and now we’re focused on lifting the trophy.”
Despite that setback in May, coach Ismaila Coulibaly stuck to his plan, which eventually paid dividends. “I haven’t changed that much; we’ve retained the same style of play,” he said, visibly satisfied with his charges’ determined display. “We almost went through the same experience, because we missed a lot of chances in the first half, but we can be happy with how it ended.”
Now that his players have finally laid the ghost of their penalty shootout loss to rest, they will likely go into Tuesday’s mouth-watering semi-final clash with France with renewed confidence.