All-African showdown for the title
Three weeks ago, 24 teams from six confederations arrived in South America to contest the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015. Fifty-two matches later it has been confirmed that an African side will definitely lift the trophy, while Belgium and Mexico will seek to end their campaign on a high note by winning bronze before the tournament showpiece gets underway. FIFA.com looks ahead to the final day of competition.
The final Mali-Nigeria, Vina Del Mar, 19.00 (local time) Two teams from the same confederation will go toe-to-toe in the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup for the first time in 22 years and ten editions of the tournament, after CAF sides Ghana and Nigeria met in the final back in 1993. The Golden Eaglets secured the second of their four World Cup crowns with a 2-1 victory that day. “It’s very important for African football and incredible that something like this has only happened once before,” said Nigeria’s Orji Okwonkwo in eager anticipation of this continental showdown, where the record champions could become the second team to defend their title on Sunday evening after Brazil triumphed in 1997 and 1999.
Although the Nigerians have ample experience of these showdowns, Sunday night’s game will mark the first time a Malian side has reached the final of any FIFA tournament. After the country’s third-place finish at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand a few months ago, coach Baye Ba’s squad have gone one step further in Chile. “Let me tell you straight: you build up an appetite by eating,” he explained before the last four. Mali’s passage to the final has surely increased this hunger even further.
While Nigeria hold a clear lead in the head-to-head record between the two nations’ senior sides with four wins, three draws and just one defeat to their name, Mali have the edge when it comes to youth football. When hosting the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 1999, the Golden Eaglets were forced to throw in the towel in the quarter-finals as Les Aiglonnets beat them 3-1. ****
Match for third place Belgium-Mexico, Vina Del Mar, 16.00 (local time) The track records of these two teams could hardly be more different ahead of their first meeting at youth level. In one corner stand the Belgians, who have already exceeded all expectations. After qualifying for the Round of 16 as one of the best third-place group finishers, the Europeans improved from one match to the next and proved to be worthy adversaries to Mali in the last four.
Waiting in the other corner are the Mexicans, who have just lost a FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final for the first time after becoming champions in 2011 and contesting the decider two years ago. El Tri were defeated 4-2 by Nigeria in one of the most exciting matches of this tournament in Chile – but the result could easily have been different. “Both teams had chances. Unfortunately we didn’t score, Nigeria did. This was the difference – but that’s football,” coach Mario Arteaga said succinctly after the game.****
Player to watch Kelechi Nwakali (Nigeria)** The Golden Eaglets' skipper led his side to the final with a masterful midfield performance against Mexico in the semi-final, scoring his third goal of Chile 2015 with a sublime free kick. With three assists to his name, the No10 has a creative spark to his game that will be needed to break down the stern Malian defence.****
The stat 3 – While it seems almost certain that Nigeria’s Victor Osimhen will collect the adidas Golden Boot as best goalscorer of the tournament with nine strikes so far, a head-to-head battle has emerged for the lower steps on this particular podium. The Golden Eaglets’ Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze, Mali’s Sidiki Maiga and Belgian Rigo are all tied on three goals each with one game left to play. Currently ahead of this quartet with four goals is Germany’s Johannes Eggestein, whose team were eliminated by Croatia in the Round of 16.
The words "Playing at a World Cup is an experience to treasure for life. You never know whether you’ll get to play at another one. Unfortunately our title dreams are now over, but we still have a chance to take home a medal. We’ll now give it everything against Belgium so that we can end the tournament on a high note," * *Mexico defender Diego Cortes.