Yassine Benzia was the hero on Thursday evening for France as they stormed back to beat Côte d'Ivoire 3-2 at the Estadio Corregidora in Queretaro. Two goals behind inside 25 minutes, Benzia scored a brace and set up another as Les Bleus overcame an impressive performance by the west Africans and another goal from Souleymane Coulibaly.
Having won the rainy battle, the Europeans move on to face hosts Mexico in the quarter-final on 4 July in Pachuca, while disappointed Côte d'Ivoire join the rest of the tournament’s African contingent on their way home. But so well did the Ivorians start the match that it was hard to begrudge them their fortuitous opener in just the third minute.
To nobody’s surprise, it was Coulibaly that got on the scoresheet first for his ninth tally in four matches. From a cross by Drissa Diarrassouba out left, Jean Kouassi controlled the ball well and shot. His effort seemed to be smothered by goalkeeper Lionnel Mpasi Nzau, but the ball squirted out from beneath him and the adidas Golden Boot favourite was quickest to react. It wasn’t his best goal of the tournament, although it did equal Florent Sinama Pongolle’s 2001 record for most goals scored in a U-17 World Cup, but it settled the team’s nerves and they played well for the rest of the first half.
Diarrassouba turned the early advantage in possession enjoyed by the Africans into a top-drawer goal in the 25th minute. After a French giveaway, the youngster gathered the ball on the right, ran confidently at the defence and flicked a left-footed shot across the outstretched goalkeeper and into the net. It was the first Ivorian goal not scored by Coulibaly in Mexico.
Côte d'Ivoire continued to look comfortable on the ball, but France pressed well and showed great speed in the counter attack. Les Bleus found their vital breakthrough in the 36th minute, although it came from the penalty spot. Sebastien Haller’s cross from the right was misjudged by Ivorian captain Jean Thome, who looked on in horror as the falling ball glanced off his arm. Benzia converted the spot-kick by sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.
After an even first 20 minutes in the second half, Benzia became the hero of the French attack, and played a vital part in the equaliser. His piercing pass found space behind the defence of Les Elephanteux, and Lenny Nangis exhibited a tremendous burst of pace to run onto it in the left side of the box. He also showed strength and a powerful shot to hold off two defenders and blast the ball past the keeper.
Benzia switched back to scorer from provider in the 74th minute, and this time there was no question about the quality as he gathered the ball at the end of some loose play and snapped a 25-yard shot past the diving goalkeeper. The dramatic winner gives him five goals in four matches, and he is the second-top scorer in Mexico behind Coulibaly.
In the final 10 minutes, the tiring Africans pushed forward as best they could and the match opened up at both ends. Jean-Eudes Aholou’s long-range effort screamed past the bar from a tight angle in the 80th minute and shortly after, Ibrahim Coulibaly ran strongly into the French box only to be let down by his final touch when he seemed likely to test the keeper. Things got even more harried after Nangis was sent off in the 86th minute for a second yellow card, but Côte d'Ivoire's Guy Bedi was unable to convert a good chance from the middle of the area in the dying seconds as their hopes drifted away.