jeudi, 21 février 2019
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Two-time champion Ghana brushed aide one African opponent Niger in style, winning 2-0 in the U-17 World Cup pre-quarterfinal, in the process setting up a quarterfinal date with another African rival, Mali.

Two goals on either side of half-time set the seal on Ghana’s clear superiority in a mismatch at the DY Patil stadium. The winner showed class and firm control to overcome a spirited rival.

Eric Ayah’s penalty kick conversion and substitute Richard Danso’s thundering volley supplied the fireworks in the first knockout tie at the venue. Niger goalkeeper Khaled Lawali walked off with head high, two goals against, but reputation high after a standout show, only to end up on the losing side.

Continuing his form shown against Spain and Brazil in the league stage, Khaled had an answer for every Ghana foray in the first half, blocking shot from different angles till teammate Faroukh cracked under pressure to concede a penalty. Eric slotted in the first goal with a low shot to the corner.

Faroukh over-reacted again in the 84th minute, tripping Emmanuel Toku after the latter moved clear with a twisting move  around the defender. The Niger goalkeeper guessed right to the kick by captain Eric, moved to his left for a reflex block. Khald got beaten by a fierce volley by Richard and the ball flew in off the gloves.

Niger got lucky later when Ghana’s Gideon mensah kicked over with an open goal in front, followed up a Ibrahim Sulley attempt from close which would have gone in off the post, but for his teammate’s enthusiam in the 66th minute. Khaled was at other post and watched in anxiety as the ball looped over.

Luckily for the two sides, clear skies at kickoff allowed players to focus on the serious task at hand. Ghana went into the knockout with two players carrying bookings, three from Niger had three players with yellow cards against their names.  One player on either side was not eligible due to two back-to-back bookings.

Goalkeepers at both ends were called into action, coming off the line to collect a cross from the flank and at another time rushing out to collect a pass. Khaled Lawali in Niger goal reacted quickly enough to block a left-footed shot by Edmund Mensah at the expense of a corner, the ball coming at an awkward angle and giving time only to react.

Emmanuel Toku had earlier got a close look, but shot over. Niger were kept pinned in own half due to waves of rival raids down both flanks. Khaled kept eyes on the ball to tip over after Ibrahim Sulley found space on the right for a crack at goal. Ghana were the dominant side, midfielders and forwards linked up with ease but the goalkeeper was the stumbling block, till the penalty.

The two African nations lined up for the respective national anthems before an almost empty stadium, which filled up in the second half. Diwali festivities kept locals busy at home. That the match day was a working day did not make it easy for working game enthusiasts to reach the venue in time for a 5.00 pm game.

Nandakumar MARAR (The Hindu)

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