Classical Spain is all set to clash with robust Mali on Wednesday in the semifinal of the FIFA U17 World Cup. The semifinal contest at the D Y Patil Stadium is expected to produce some top-notch football with Euro U17 champions Spain adopting their Tiki-Taka (short-passing) style of play as they try to overcome the attacking manner of play by African champions Mali.
Both the teams have progressed to the last eight after losing their opening games, Spain to another top title-favourite and South American champions Brazil and Mali to another Latin American outfit, Paraguay, respectively.
While Spain have played mostly in the southern coastal city of Kochi, Mali have a slight advantage of having played at the D Y Patil Stadium in two Group B games before travelling out and returning to the same venue in under a fortnight’s time.
In both of Mali’s previous games, rains had made the ground wet and even in the quarterfinals against fellow-Africans Ghana they had to brave a soggy field in Guwahati to sail through.
Three-time Euro U17 champions Spain will be confronted by the hard-tackling Africans who also play at a fast pace and the outcome will be determined by which team lasts longer in the trying conditions.
After losing to the stylish Brazilians, who too have advanced to the semis, Spain have not put a foot wrong. After brushing off the challenge from Niger and DPR Korea comfortably, the Spaniards had a tough game against fellow-Euro outfit France at Guwahati and won on the back of a penalty goal by their lead scorer Abel Ruiz.
Striker Ruiz has scored four goals in the competition, including the first in the 3-1 victory over Iran in the quarters, and will certainly be tightly marked by Mali's defenders.
La Rojita have another ebullient forward in Sergio Gomez and the deep Mali defense will have their hands full in keeping him and Ruiz at bay.
Mali have a top goal-tender in Youssouf Koita to give the defenders before him a lot of confidence. Mali, the 2015 finalists, too have an enterprising forward in Lassana N Diaye who has pumped in five goals out of the 15 they have scored in the competition so far.
They have other key goal-poachers too in striker Hadji Drame and attacking midfielder Djemoussa Traore and the Spanish defense will have to be extremely vigilant in not allowing space to the quick-footed Mali players.
The fact that Mali have made 128 attempts at goal so far is an indication of how attacking they could be. There will also be an intense battle for midfield dominance between the two teams and is expected to dictate the course of the match.
Mali: Alkalifa Coulibaly, Boubacar Haidara, Djemoussa Traore, Fode Konate, Mamadi Fofana, Mohamed Camara, Hadji Drame, Abdoulaye Dabo, Seme Camara, Salam Giddou, Mamadou Traore, Mahamane Toure, Soumaila Doumbia, Siaka Sidibe, Abdoulaye Diaby, Youssouf Koita, Mamadou Samake, Ibrahim Kane, Lassana N?Diaye, Cheick Oumar Doucoure, Massire Gassama.
Alvaro Fernandez, Mateu Jaume, Juan Miranda, Hugo Guillamon, Victor Chust, Antonio Blanco, Ferran Torres, Mohamed Moukhliss, Abel Ruiz, Sergio Gomez, Nacho Diaz, Pedro Ruiz, Marc Vidal, Alvaro Garcia, Eric Garcia, Diego Pampin, Jose Lara, Cesar Gelabert, Carlos Beitia, Victor Perea, Alfonso Pastor.