Spain wary of robust Mali
Navi Mumbai: A battle of contrasting styles will be on view when classical Spain cross swords with a robust Mali in the Fifa U-17 World Cup semi-final clash, here, on Wednesday.
The contest at the DY Patil Stadium is expected to produce top-draw football with Euro U-17 champions Spain adopting their tiki-taka style of play in trying to overcome the free-flowing and attacking manner of play by African champions Mali.
Both the teams have progressed to the last eight after losing their opening games - Spain to another top title- favourite and South American champions Brazil, and Mali to another Latin American outfit, Paraguay, respectively.
While Spain have played mostly in the coastal city of Kochi, Mali have a slight advantage of having played at the DY Patil Stadium in two Group B games before travelling out and returning to the same venue in under a fortnight's time. How much of an advantage the familiarity of the playing surface will be for Mali will be known on Wednesday with one small difference from their stay and contests earlier on - the rains have gone away.
In Mali's previous games here, rains had made the ground wet and even in the quarter finals against fellow- Africans Ghana, they had to brave a soggy field in Guwahati to sail through.
Three-time Euro U-17 champions Spain will be confronted by the hard-tackling Africans who also play at a fast pace and the outcome will be determined by which team lasts longer in the trying conditions, although the game starts 8pm.
After losing to the stylish Brazilians, who too have advanced to the semis, Spain have not put a foot wrong. After brushing off the challenge from Niger and North Korea comfortably, the Spaniards had a tough game against France in Guwahati and won on the back of a penalty by their lead scorer Abel Ruiz.
Striker Ruiz has scored four goals so far in the competition, including the first in the 3-1 victory over Iran in the quarters, and will certainly be under tight marking from Mali defenders. "La Rojita" have another efficient forward in Sergio Gomez and the deep Mali defence will have their hands full in keeping him and Ruiz at bay.
Mali have a top goal-scorer in Youssouf Koita to give the defenders before him a lot of confidence. Mali, the 2015 finalists, have an enterprising forward as well in the form of Lassana N'Diaye, who has pumped in five goals out of the 15 they have scored in the competition so far.
They have other key goal-poachers too in the form of striker Hadji Drame and attacking midfielder Djemoussa Traore, and the Spanish defence will have to be extremely vigilant in not allowing space to the quick-footed Mali players. The fact that Mali have made 128 attempts at goal so far is an indication of how attacking they could be.
There will also be an intense battle for midfield dominance between the two teams.