Reigning Africa U-17 champion Mali sealed a spot in the knockout round by beating New Zealand 3-1 in the final Group B match here on Thursday.
The margin should have been much more. At least half a dozen shots from Mali came off the post or the crossbar. A few went wide and over. It had almost 70% possession.
Lassane N’Diaye and Djemoussa Traore made life difficult for the New Zealand defence and its goalkeeper Zac Jones. They lurked on the edge, attempting and assisting. Both scored.
A brief dribble on the edge of the penalty box, a dodge to get past a couple of New Zealand defenders and Traore’s right-footed shot found the back of the net at the bottom-right corner to make it 2-0 for Mali in the 43rd minute. N’Diaye finally got one to go in, tapping past an out-of-position Jones and no defender around after being put through by Fode Konate.
Earlier, Salam Jiddou got the opener with a screamer from 20 yards, assisted by Traore with a back pass that left New Zealand defence clueless.
New Zealand did try. Captain Max Mata, returning after a one-match suspension, took shots from both near and far, coming close to scoring in the third minute itself.
Elijah Just was tireless on the wings. He pushed one into the path of substitute Charles Spragg’s head that beat Mali custodian Youssouf Koita and gave New Zealand its lone goal. But it just wasn’t enough.
The result: Mali 3 (Salam Jiddou 18, Djemoussa Traore 51, Lassane N’Diaye 82) bt New Zealand 1 (Charles Spragg 72).