Ghana, Niger set for all-African battle in last 16

Ghana, Niger set for all-African battle in last 16
Ghana's Sadiq Ibrahim (R) gestures during the FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2017 group A soccer match between Colombia and Ghana at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi, India, 06 October 2017. EPA/RAJAT GUPTA

by Graeme Jackson

Monday Oct 16, 2017. 13:00

Ghana and Niger will meet in an all-African last 16 clash at the U-17 World Cup, with their match set for the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai on Wednesday, kick-off at 13h30.

The Black Starlets booked their place in the knockout rounds by finishing top of a tricky Group A. The West Africans were tied on six points with both Colombia and the USA, but their superior goal difference (boosted by a 4-0 win over hosts India in the final round of pool games) saw them placed first.

Despite their strong showing thus far, Ghana have yet to really hit top gear and coach Paa Kwesi Fabin will hope that the do-or-die nature of knockout football inspires his charges to new heights.

The coach has partly blamed the gaze of scouts for his side failing to live up to their full potential: "When the players see that the scouts are around they want to impress, and even if someone is in a better position to score they act selfishly,” he explained.

"It is a big problem for us and we need to tell the boys that the better you play, the more you get recognised.”

Niger are one of the surprise qualifiers for the last 16, with the tournament debutants sneaking into the knockout rounds as one of the four best third-place finishers.

Niger beat North Korea 1-0 in their opening match before suffering 0-4 and 0-2 defeats to Spain and Brazil respectively. The Young Menas will need to bounce back
strongly from those disappointments if they are to pose a challenge to Ghana.

These teams met back in May in the semifinals of the U-17 Africa Cup of Nations: the match in Port-Gentil, Gabon, ended in a goalless stalemate before the Black Starlets won 6-5 on penalties.

The winners will advance into the last eight and face either Mali or Iraq in the first quarterfinal on Saturday in Guwahati.

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