Argentina booked their place in the semi-finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup with a minimum of fuss, beating Côte d'Ivoire 2-1 in the last eight. The contest at the Sharjah Stadium lacked spark, but the Argentines did just enough to push through to the last four where they will face defending champions Mexico in Abu Dhabi.
The South Americans were in no mood to waste time, taking the lead after only six minutes of play on the final day of action in Sharjah. Matias Sanchez picked up his head in a wide right position and sent in a dangerous, looping cross that flew over the back-peddling Ivorian defenders. Joaquin Ibanez was on the spot in the area, collecting the ball on his chest before taking another touch and firing past Seck Diabagate.
The west Africans had no choice but to come out of their defensive shell and push forward into attack, not a familiar approach for the conservative Baby Elephants. After 15 minutes, Aboubakar Keita tried to curl a free-kick past Augusto Batalla, but the Argentine keeper was up to the task and caught the effort with relative ease. Two minutes later, Kouame N Guessan went on a flying raid up the left side and pulled the ball back across the penalty area. Kouassi Begbin made a hash of his first touch, and by the time he turned and got a shot off he couldn’t generate anywhere near enough power or direction to trouble the keeper.
Just after the half-hour mark of a disjointed match, littered with physical play and repetitive fouling, the South Americans deservedly doubled their advantage to make it 2-0. Rodrigo Moreira kept his cool to stretch past his marker and poke a bouncing corner-kick over the line with the bottom of his boot.
The second half began with the Ivorians pressing forward, trying to get a foothold in the contest. But they failed to find any kind of attacking rhythm and the Argentines were happy enough to absorb pressure and make the occasional raid up-field. Franck Kessie’s free-kick from the edge of the box in the 66th minute flew into the arms of Batalla. Seconds later, the Africans were on the attack again. Substitute Chris Bedia showed off a few feints and tricks to leave a pair of defenders in his dust. His finish was lacking, however, and Batalla blocked it wide.
The Ivorians gave themselves a lifeline in the 77th minute when Digbo Maiga’s cross was blocked by the hand of Leandro Vega in the area. Captain Kessie stepped up to convert the penalty, but it was too little too late for Côte d'Ivoire as the match - which produced eight yellow cards - ended at 2-1. One worry for Argentina coach Humberto Grondona will be the suspension of Moreira and Sanchez for the semi-final against Mexico. All The Ivorians have to worry about, however, is getting their passports in order for the flight home.