In just their fourth appearance at this level, Les Aiglonnets have achieved a feat that no other Malian national side at any age category has ever managed: progressing to the showpiece match of a FIFA-run tournament.
They were made to work hard for their reward, however, as the Belgians went toe-to-toe with them for large portions of the match. Lady Luck also played her part in the Africans’ victory, when a seemingly harmless long ball bamboozled the Belgian goalkeeper and allowed them to take a 2-1 lead.
Indeed, the clash had just about everything, including tit-for-tat scoring, six goals, three of which had fans leaping off their seats, and intense emotions until the very last kick of the ball.
Mali 3-1 Belgium
Mexico 2-4 Nigeria
Goal of the day
Nigeria 2-2 Mexico, Diego Cortes (60)
When Diego Cortes picked up the ball on the right, halfway inside the Nigerian half, nobody present at Estadio Municipal Ester Roa could have imagined what was about to happen next. The talented young Mexican drove at the Golden Eaglets’ defence, skilfully slaloming past five players into the box and then slotting the ball beyond the ’keeper in composed fashion to score a truly unforgettable goal.
The day started off well for Belgium’s players, as they learned that their senior counterparts had moved to the top of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for the very first time. In addition, the President of the Royal Belgian Football Association, Francois De Keersmaecker, had travelled to La Serena to witness their semi-final. “I came to encourage them because what they’ve achieved is extraordinary. Never before have we gone so far in a youth-level World Cup, and now we have the chance to finish third. I think that, despite the defeat, it’s been a great day for Belgian football,” he told FIFA.com.
The mistake by Belgium No1 Jens Teuncknes which led to Mali’s second goal did not go unnoticed by his counterpart between the sticks, Samuel Diarra. After having exchanged a few words with Teuncknes prior to the match, a magnanimous Diarra also caught up with him once the final whistle had blown. “First I congratulated him for his performance in the quarter-final, and then I told him he was unlucky today. He just got caught out by the flight of the ball. I’ve also made mistakes here. These things happen,” the shot-stopper admitted to FIFA.com.
Eight out of eight! That is Nigeria’s remarkable new record in U-17 World Cup semi-finals following their victory over El Tri at Chile 2015. In doing so, they also brought their opponents’ run of three previous semi-final triumphs (in three attempts) to an abrupt halt.
By scoring the penalty that extended Nigeria’s lead over Mexico to 4-2, striker Victor Osimhen took his goal tally for the tournament to nine, equalling the joint all-time record held by Ivorian Souleymane Coulibaly (2011) and Frenchman Florent Sinama Pongolle (2001). Few would bet against the African goal machine adding another in the final.
22 – The number of years that have gone by since the U-17 World Cup last served up a final between two teams from the same confederation. Back then, at Japan 1993, the finalists were both from Africa too, and Nigeria was also involved. For the record, the Golden Eaglets emerged victorious from their clash with Ghana, claiming the first of their four global titles at this level.
@fifacom_es It was a real pleasure! They’re excellent; a fantastic team to watch,” Former Mali international Mohamed Sissoko, responding via his Twitter account to a question from FIFA.com about the Mali-Belgium semi-final.
Sunday 8 November (all times local)
Play-off for third place
Belgium-Mexico (Vina del Mar, 16.00)
Mali-Nigeria (Vina del Mar, 19.00)