Mali clinched third spot at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, with Adama Traore scoring two and setting up a third in a 3-1 win over ten-man Senegal at North Harbour Stadium. Winning bronze was no more than Fanyeri Diarra’s side deserved for a superb performance throughout the tournament. This thrilling match saw two penalties saved and great shots from Diadie Samassekou and Senegal’s Ibrahima Wadji.
Amidst heavy rains, both teams displayed very entertaining and closely contested encounter with many persistent raids on each other’s penalty area throughout. The signal was given as early as the first whistle when Hamidou Traore’s deflected shot looked to be heading for the net until it rebounded to safety off the head of Mali team-mate Lassine Konate.
The Teranga Lions rose to the occasion as the game progresses and had their moments too with Djigui Diarra twice forced into excellent saves from a powerful shot from Roger Gomis and again from a Sidy Sarr header. However, their game was dealt a major blow in the closing seconds of the first-half when Moussa Ba was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Souleymane Diarra.
Senegal continued to control and took the lead 18 minutes into the second half. Sarr played a crucial role in flicking on a long ball, and Ibrahima Wadji reacted by bending a left-foot shot just inside the right-hand post enough to beat the goalkeeper.
Mali responded ten minutes later thanks to one of the best set pieces of the tournament. Traore curled a perfect free-kick over the wall and beyond Keeper Ibrahima Sy at the top-right corner. Falaye Sacko failed from the spot, firing in a mis-directed penalty that was easily saved by Sy and the ball was then headed over by Samassekou.
Traore again proved the hero with seven minutes remaining with a better goal – an unstoppable 25-yard shot with his weaker foot just inside the right-hand post.
The drama wasn’t yet over, because a second saved penalty – this time at the other end – had the crowd on their feet, with Mali’s Djigui Diarra parrying Malick Niang’s initial kick and then pushing away the rebound from Mamadou Thiam. And there was still time for another goal for Samassekou having been set up by Traore’s clever first-time flick.
Fanyeri Diarra, Mali coach
“We’ve come a long way in this tournament and have been proud to represent Africa. And we’re very happy today. Adama Traore (with two goals and an assist) did a great job for us. He is a great player and I have no doubt he has a great future in the game. We’ve had a great run in this competition and the outcome is very positive. For Africa, it has been great having two teams in the last four, and I want to congratulate Senegal too. Nigeria and Ghana were also strong, and I think African teams have defended their colours extremely well in this tournament. We’ve proven that, with the right resources, African teams will get results”.
Joseph Koto, Senegal coach
“It is a painful defeat for me. We controlled the match in the first match and were really well organised after we had gone in front. But we had to make some changes at the start of the second half that affected that organisation. Naturally, the red card led to those changes. In the end, Mali deserved their win today. They played really well. But we also played well, particularly when you consider the injury problems we had and the fatigue the players are suffering after playing six matches – one every three days. We would have loved to have finished third but we will remain calm and continue working hard with this talented group of players”.