FIFA U-17 World Cup: Ghana too good for Niger, set up grudge match with Mali

The 30-odd Ghanaian fans returned with smiles on their face as their team booked a quarterfinal berth with a 2-0 win over Niger in the FIFA U-17 World Cup at the DY Patil Stadium on Wednesday.

On the eve of the match, Ghana coach Samuel Fabian spoke about the pressure of winning whichever tournament they participate in. It was no different on Wednesday. The expectation of the vociferous supporters was, as always, sky high and they egged the team to keep pressing on.

Goals from skipper Eric Ayiah and Richard Danso gave the result the Ghanaian fans wanted. In the quarter-finals they will face fellow Africans Mali in Guwahati on October 21. It will be a revenge match for Ghana against their continental rivals who had beaten them 1-0 in the final of the Under-17 Africa Cup of Nations.

The players, too, acknowledged the fans after the final whistle, breaking into a well-choreographed jig to thank them for their support.

While Ghanaians dominated possession, it wasn’t the easiest of tasks to cut through Niger’s defence initially. But as the minutes went by, Ghana’s influence on the game grew and Niger’s resistance was broken in the third minute of the first-half injury time when Farouk Idrissa’s clumsy tackle on Ayiah resulted in a penalty. Ayiah stepped up, sent keeper Khaled Lawali the wrong way to give Ghana the much-deserved lead.

In the dying minutes of the match, Niger conceded another penalty. Idrissa was again to blame as he brought down Emmanuel Toku. Ayiah stepped up again but this time Lawali guessed it right to stop the effort. But Danso’s pile driver in the last minute of regulation time sealed the win for Ghana and made sure there wasn’t any late drama.

On either side of that opening goal, Lawali made some brilliant saves as well. First, denying Edmund Arko-Mensah in the 25th minute, which was also the first real attack of the match, and then parrying away Emmanuel Toku’s curling effort from the edge of the box in the 65th minute.

Ghana were also guilty of fluffing their lines, luckily for them that didn’t come back to bite them. The trio of Ayiah, Ibrahim Sulley and Gabriel Leveh were running the show for Ghana, and were always troubling the Niger defence.

While Niger did well, on occasions, while repelling the wave of Ghana attacks, they weren’t clinical in mounting attacks. Poor ball control, lack of understanding and miss-timed passes led to their downfall.

In the first 20 minutes, both teams looked to hold ground, not committing too many men forward. But as nerves soothed, Ghana began to be more adventurous. Once they began to find gaps in Niger’s defence, it was one-way traffic.