There are but four contenders left in the race for glory at the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015. Brazil, Senegal, Serbia and Mali are the sides that emerged from four tight quarter-finals, three of which were decided by penalty shootouts, and now head into Wednesday’s semis with designs on a place in the final.
Brazil will begin their encounter with Senegal without having conceded a goal in 412 minutes, while the Africans, who are enjoying a debut to remember, will have fresher legs than their opponents, having seen off Uzbekistan in normal time in the quarters.
In the other last-four meeting, Serbia, who could be excused for feeling a little weary after two punishing ties in the previous rounds, go head to head with a Mali side brimming with confidence after ending the hopes of European champions and perennial favourites Germany in the quarters.
FIFA.com sets the scene for Wednesday’s high-stakes matches in Auckland and Christchurch, the latest chapters in a fascinating tournament tale.
Brazil-Senegal, Christchurch, 17 June 2015, 16.00 local time
The opening semi pitches a five-time winner of the competition against a tournament debutant, and promises much. The Africans are bursting with ambition as their surprise trophy bid gathers pace, while the ball-playing Brazilians will be looking to produce the kind of play that has yielded them 110 attempts on goal so far in New Zealand, more than any other side, though they have had to rely on two shootout wins to get this far.
Marshalled by flamboyant goalkeeper Ibrahima Sy, who has stopped three spot-kicks to date, the Senegalese boast a formidable defence and are the first debutants in 22 years to reach this stage of the competition. Can Joseph Koto’s charges emulate Ghana’s achievement in reaching the final at Australia 1993, or will Brazil’s experience see them into the tournament showpiece?
Serbia-Mali, Auckland, 17 June 2015, 19.30 local time
The only time these two sides have ever met each other in the competition was in the group phase 13 days ago. Having kicked off with a win over Mexico, Mali had their sights set on a place in the next round when they took on a Serbia side on the back foot following their defeat to Uruguay. The eastern Europeans negated the Malian threat, however, and displayed their tournament credentials with an impressive 2-0 win.
In this return meeting the well-drilled and hard-running Serbians will have left-footed midfield maestro Andrija Zivkovic directing operations, while their main concern will be stopping the pacy and powerful Adama Traore, who has built up a hugely productive attacking partnership with Dieudonne Gbkale. Will the duo inspire the Africans to a place in the final, or can Serbia serve up a repeat of their group-phase win?
Player to watch
No keeper has better statistics at New Zealand 2015 than Serbia’s Predrag Rajkovic, who has made 17 saves and let in just two goals. Commanding in the air, blessed with sharp reflexes and skilled with his feet, the Serbian captain had a big hand in his side’s hard-fought victory over USA, pulling off some important stops in normal time and then keeping out two penalties in the shootout. If Mali’s Traore and Gbkale are to stay in among the goals, they will need to be at the very best to find a way past Rajkovic.
3 - the number of times now that the U-20 World Cup semi-finals have been graced with the presence of two African teams. The first instance came when Ghana and Egypt reached the last four at Argentina 2001, and the second when Nigeria and Morocco did likewise at Netherlands 2005.
“I can tell you that Dakar is not sleeping right now. Everyone thought we’d get hammered 5-0, 6-0, 7-0 in all our games, but the team has improved with each round and everyone is watching our matches now,” Joseph Koto, Senegal coach.
Semi-finals, 17 June 2015 (all times local)
Brazil-Senegal (Christchurch, Christchurch Stadium, 16.00)
Serbia-Mali (Auckland, North Harbour Stadium, 19.30)