Mali’s frontline hope for change in fortune

By the time the final whistle sounded on Mali’s opening match at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, the Africans had registered no fewer than 26 attempts on goal – a competition record – compared to just two efforts from Belgium. While this formidable tally of shots would have been little more than a footnote to the game if it had produced anything tangible, the fact that the encounter ultimately ended in a goalless draw left the young African side understandably disappointed.

The continental champions will be keen to make amends for this result when they face Ecuador on Wednesday 21 October, and do what they failed to do against their European rivals. “As our qualifying campaign showed, we play attacking football,” a confident Boubacar Traore told “We scored more goals than any other side there, and we want to do that again here. We want to win every match and ultimately lift the trophy.”

No looking back The striker was unable to capitalise on several opportunities against the young Red Devils, while team-mates Aly Malle and Sidiki Maiga suffered similar frustration, despite the Belgian back four struggling to contain them after the opening phases of the match.

Although coach Baye Bah’s team posed a consistent threat in front of the opposition goal with their dribbling skills, pinpoint short passing and lightning speed down the wing, their final ball was either inaccurate or gathered up with ease by keeper Jens Teunckens. Mali’s performance was so impressive that the neutrals within Talca’s Estadio Fiscal even broke into spontaneous applause at the sight of their sparkling attacking display. “We’ve received a really warm welcome here in Chile and feel very much at home,” said Traore.

Les Aiglonnets have long since put the disappointment of this missed opportunity behind them, refusing to dwell on it as their focus shifts to the upcoming duel with La Tri. “We analysed the last match and will try to improve,” explained Traore, who cites Samuel Eto’o and his irrepressible will to win as his inspiration. “Our coach reacted accordingly in training and changed some things, but I definitely can’t say what,” he added with a smile.

Although the youngster knows that his side’s ability to create so many chances is an encouraging sign that goals will eventually follow, the Africans cannot expect to carve out as many opportunities against an Ecuador team that delivered the strongest defensive performance at this year’s South American U-17 Football Championship.

Garnering respect and recognition “We’re only concerned about ourselves,” Traore continued. “If we can play the way we did in our opening game, we’ll win.” Belgium coach Bob Browaeys would no doubt agree with this assessment, having expressed respect and admiration for his team’s opponents shortly after their stalemate drew to a close. “To be honest this isn’t the right result,” he said. “Mali were stronger and played fantastic, beautiful football. I can only congratulate the coach, the team and the federation. They played brilliantly and were technically very strong.”

“It’s great that their coach responded so openly and honestly,” said Traore on hearing Browaeys’ comments. “That shows true sportsmanship.” While the Belgian’s words will be small consolation in light of Mali’s failure to secure all three points, they show that the African champions have caused opponents to sit up and take notice, before even winning a match.

And although it is difficult to know for certain what will happen once they begin converting their chances, such an improvement could potentially turn the Malians into contenders for the Chile 2015 crown.