NAVI MUMBAI: Spain have no plans to underestimate Mali in Wednesday’s FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 semifinal, with coach Santiago Denia more than aware of the threat the Eaglets of Mali will pose when the two meet at DY Patil Stadium.
Spain beat Iran 3-1 in Sunday’s quarterfinal in Kochi to progress to this stage of the tournament for the fifth time, while the Mali edged out Ghana 2-1 on Saturday in Guwahait to earn a second consecutive appearance in the semifinals.
While tournament’s joint top scorer Lassana Ndiaye continues to attract the majority of the attention for the Mali, Jonas Kokou Komla’s 2017 U-17 Africa Cup of Nations champions also boast the likes of Hadji Drame and Djemoussa Traore.
“We are expecting a tough game and Ndiaye is a fantastic footballer, but there are a number of them in that team. They have some really good individuals that can hurt you that we have already seen and we have tremendous respect for them,” said Denia.
La Rojita faces a physically powerful squad whose players know how to defend and use their strength to break down barriers.
“Our preparations have been good. The short period of time is a disadvantage, but we have worked to recover the players and we have not put a lot of pressure on the players in training,” the 43-year-old continued.
Both sides have enjoyed similar records so far in the tournament after losing their respective opening games, bounced back in style beating some really tough opponents.
“I honestly don’t believe Mali is going to play a transitional game. I expect them to be on the ball and use the wings. I believe they will play good football and that’s why they are in the semifinal. We need to impose our game on them and let the opposition react to that,” he added.
“We are doing a lot better defensively and we are growing with each game. Hopefully we can take another step towards more improvement in the next game.” Denia concluded.
On the other hand, Mali may have gone from strength to strength through the competition, but the semifinal clash against Spain is going to be their biggest test so far.
“Spain is a big team, a very good team” Komla kept it short and simple when asked about their opponent.
Mali played two of their group stage encounters at Mumbai when asked whether this familiarity will give an edge to his side, Komla wasn’t coy to admit it. “We have played here before and we know the pitch very well but it’s a World Cup semifinal match against Spain who are a very good team. But yes we will carry a little advantage,” the gaffer added.
The Eaglets have been mostly destructive in attack having scored 15 goals with 43 shots on-target. They have clearly looked to go and get the goals. This attacking mindset was echoed by the coach.
“Our philosophy is to play the game and win the match. And that’s how we have been playing and will play. Even after losing to Paraguay, we have been playing with the same system and will play according to our philosophy.” Komala concluded.
Mali has finished as runners-up of U-17 World Cup in 2015 at Chile, where they lost to Nigeria 2-0 in the final, while Spain has returned to the tournament following a 8-year absence since finishing third in 2009.