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Two-time champions Ghana outplayed fellow African side Niger 2-0 to enter the quarterfinals of the FIFA U17 World Cup.
Goals by captain Eric Ayiah off a penalty in the first half added time and substitute Richard Danso in the 90th minute helped Ghana win the rough and tough round of 16 game at the D Y Patil Stadium after dominating play almost right through.
Ghana will take on African champions Mali in a repeat of their continental qualifying event final in the quarterfinals on October 21 in Guwahati.
Debutants Niger, who lost to Ghana 5-6 on penalties in the African U-17 tournament in May, had to defend stoutly against the fleet-footed Ghana trio of captain Eric Ayiah, Edmund Arko-Mensah and Emmanuel Toko.
The losing team’s hero was their goalkeeper Khaled Lawali who time and again came to his side’s rescue to stop goal-bound shots with his agility and positional sense.
In fact, the excellent goal-keeping by Lawali and robust defending by the back four kept the two-time champions at bay for almost the entire first half till they conceded a penalty in the added time.
Ayiah threw off his shadow after chasing a through ball into the penalty area on the right before he was tripped by his marker and central defender Farouk Idrissa. Ayiah, already with two goals under his belt, converted the spot kick by making Lawali dive the other way as he found the right bottom corner of the net to give Ghana a 1-0 lead just before half-time was called.
The Ghanaian captain had posed constant danger with his speed and ball control and it needed all the skills of the central defenders Idrissa and Inousse Amadou to prevent him from scoring earlier in the half.
The alertness of Niger custodian Lawali saw him parrying shots from Arko-Mensah, Ayiah and Toku as well as a sweeping try from the right by Ibrahim Sulley besides leaping high to bring off a brilliant save from a dangerous curling effort from the right side of the box by Najeeb Yakubu.
But for his excellent goalkeeping and the sturdy defense by the four men in his front, Niger citadel would have fallen on quite a few occasions in the first half itself.
Barring a brief spell soon after play started when they attacked a bit without posing any real danger to their rivals, niger were busy defending their area. The entire Ghana team, barring goalkeeper Danad Ibrahim, were seen in the rival half or close to the centre line at times in an attempt to breach
their opponents’ defense.
Ghana continued to hold sway in the second half although they lost defender Bismark Owusu because of an injury. The agility of Lawali kept them from increasing the lead early on when the Niger keeper leapt to his right and put out a left-footed essay from Toku for a corner.
Ghana’s two Mensahs then let the ball sail over from close range off each other’s feeds. Defender Gideon Mensah blasted the ball from inside the six-yard box after being fed by Arko Mensah with a through ball and a short while later the boot was on the other foot as the latter headed over the bar a corner taken by the former.
Ayiah also missed a golden chance to score his second goal of the match and fourth of the competition from the penalty spot. His attempted placement to the bottom right corner was guessed correctly by Lawali who dived to his left and blocked the shot.
The penalty was awarded when Toku, the other highly impressive player, was brought down on the right side of the box by Niger’s Farouk Idrissa.
But Ghana were not to be denied their second goal, which came from a peach of an effort, off a long range shot by substitute Richard Danso who unleashed a right-footer that went past the palms of a leaping Lawali to bulge the net.
Danso scored immediately after replacing Toku just before the end of 90 minutes of play.