FIFA U17 World Cup: How Mali’s quest for redemption propels them to semi-finals


Months after their heartbreaking loss to Morocco in the U-17 AFCON semi-finals, Mali found redemption in a thrilling 1-0 victory over the same opponents, securing a spot in the last four of the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Indonesia.

The jubilation displayed by the Mali players at the final whistle of their quarter-final triumph over Morocco at the Manahan Stadium in Surakarta on Saturday was rooted in the painful memories of their encounter on May 14.

On that day, the two teams clashed in the semi-finals of the CAF U-17 Africa Cup of Nations in Algeria, where neither side could break the deadlock in regular time.

The match proceeded to a penalty shootout, during which Mali held a promising lead until forward Ibrahim Kanate and captain Ibrahim Diarra saw their attempts thwarted by the impressive Taha Benrhozil.

In a cruel twist of fate, Morocco emerged victorious, sealing their place in the continental final.

Fast-forward to the present, specifically to the 81st minute of the quarter-final clash, and Mali found themselves in a scoreless deadlock once again. With memories of their penalty shootout defeat looming, Ibrahim Kanate made a brilliant turn down the left, entering the box towards the onrushing Benrhozil.

Although his shot was deflected onto the post by a Moroccan defender, his teammate Diarra capitalized on the opportunity, slotting the ball into the net and propelling Mali into the semi-finals.

The two Ibrahims, who faced misfortune in Algeria, were transformed into national heroes with this crucial goal, redeeming themselves in spectacular fashion.

Captain Diarra expressed the significance of the moment, stating, “We’ve managed to get a bit of revenge and redemption today. 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 post-match interviews, it was evident that the sting of their previous defeat was still fresh in the minds of the players.

Mahamoud Barry, reflecting on the night in Constantine, remarked, “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 the setback in May, coach Ismaila Coulibaly stuck to his strategic plan, which ultimately paid off. Expressing his satisfaction with his team’s resilient performance, Coulibaly said, “I haven’t changed that much; we’ve retained the same style of play. 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.”

With the ghosts of their penalty shootout loss finally laid to rest, Mali’s players will approach the upcoming semi-final clash against France on Tuesday with renewed confidence.

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