USA secured their passage into the round of 16 riding on substitute Ayo Akinola’s 75-minute strike for a 1-0 victory over Ghana in an enthralling Group A game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup on Monday. Coach John Hackworth’s 63rd minute substitution proved to be a masterstroke as the 17-year-old forward found the back of the net off a Christopher Goslin pass to put his team in front at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Up against a dangerous side that has won the tournament twice, the Americans then sat deep to counter Ghana’s quick counter attacks. Ghana tried to find the equaliser, but USA’s dogged defence could not be breached as they become the first team to make it to the knock-out stage.
Some credit must be reserved for Hackworth, who, realising that Tim Weah, one of his better players, was having an off day, decided to make the change. And the move paid dividends 12 minutes later. The Detroit-born Akinola, who was also eligible to play for Canada and Nigeria, could have had another goal to his name, but his shot went over.
Till Akinola got the better of Danlad Ibrahim, it appeared that the two teams would share the spoils after a slew of attempts failed to materialise in a goal. Up until that point, the Ghana goalkeeper was doing his job like a dependable custodian would normally do. His counterpart at the other end of the field, Justin Graces, was also impressive.
In a battle for the top spot in the group, both Ghana and USA showed enterprise and even though the Americans dominated possession, the Africans looked dangerous with their speed and had eight attempts on target to their opponents’ six in the first half. Throughout, Ghana had more attempts than the Americans.
USA relied on keeping possession to counter Ghana’s speed and in this contest between the two physically strong sides, midfielder Chris Goslin was shown a yellow card for a harsh tackle on Isaac Gyamfi. Eventually, it was the midfielder whose assist turned out to be the decisive one.
First up though was Aminu Mohammed, who found himself inside the box in the early minutes of the game, but could not get the better of three USA defenders surrounding him. Sadiq Ibrahim’s cross from the right hit the bar and went out.
Ghana captain Eric Ayiah was then put through a one-on-one situation with Garces. He beat the USA goalkeeper but fell before he could finish. Sadiq fired one from a close range but his shot was brilliantly saved by Garces.
Meanwhile, USA captain Josh Sargent was denied from a very close range by Danlad’s brilliant work under the bar. There was also another opportunity when USA could have taken the lead up but Blaine Ferri’s attempt off a Sargent pass went wide.