Mali are through to the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup after a shock 3-0 win over Ghana at Wellington’s Regional Stadium. It was thanks to a trio of truly wonderful goals that Les Aigles deservedly triumphed in this all-African encounter, with Diadie Samassekou, Diedonne Gbakle and Aboubabacar Doumbia producing strikes worthy of gracing any stage.
Ghana, winners of this tournament in 2009, started as heavy favourites after topping Group B and beating Argentina. But from an early stage it was clear that they would be up against it. Even before going ahead on 20 minutes, Mali had created the better openings, with the Black Satellites’ Lawrence Ati forced into a fine save to keep out Souleymane Diarra.
Ati could do nothing, though, to prevent the opening goal that followed. It came from a fantastic bit of swift, slick interplay between Samassekou and Adama Traore, with a couple of quick-fire passes and flicks exchanged before the former slammed a left-foot shot into the far corner of the net. Ghana attempted to rally but found Digui Diarra an impassable barrier, with Emmanuel Boateng twice denied by the impressive Aigles keeper either side of half-time.
Mali remained the more composed and dangerous of the two teams, though, and it was no more than they deserved when a second goal arrived on 53 minutes. Again, it was a wonderful effort, with Samassekou dancing inside from the right wing past a couple of challenges before curling in a magnificent 20-yard shot that bounced down off the underside of the bar and back up into the roof of the net.
The Ghanaians were stunned and could easily have found themselves three down when Diedonne Gbakle cut in from the same right flank and forced Ati into a fine close-range stop. But the Black Satellites keeper was merely delaying the inevitable and a final, crowning goal for Senegal arrived nine minutes from time.
True to form, it was a thing of beauty, with Aboubabacar Doumbia showing a terrific burst of pace to break clear of the Ghana defence before lofting the most delightful of chipped finishes into the far corner.
Mali now advance to face either Germany or Nigeria in Christchurch and, on the evidence of this match, those teams should be wary indeed of the threat Les Aigles pose.