It was a perfect night set for the champions of their respective continents to face each other in the Round of 16 as Asian champions Iraq would take on their African counterparts Mali. However, a dominant Mali side showcased their speed and physicality on a night that saw six goals in a single game at the Fatorda Stadium in Goa. It was the Eagles who had the last laugh as they put five goals past an Iraqi side that lacked spirit and looked underwhelmed.
Goals from Hadji Drame and Lassana N'Diaye in the first half were enough to give Mali a comfortable lead which helped them ease into the second half in which they took control. Their hold on the game was cemented with a brilliant goal from Fode Konate with just under a quarter of the game left to go. Iraq's Ali Kareem managed to pull one back for the team in the 85th minute but Mali's passion and teamwork were evident as they scored two more goals with only five minutes left with strikes from N'Diaye and Camara to take the tally to five, leaving the Iraqi team with their heads down.
Iraq head coach Qahtan Al-Rubaye showcased just exactly how hurt the team was after the loss by emphasizing on how the physicality and speed of the Mali team were too much to handle and a bit surprising for a team of this age group (U17). He said '' They sometimes look like they are an U-23 team and not in the same category as us (U17). It’s quite visible in the way they play, the way they shoot and their abilities, like speed and physicality. It's unfair sometimes because there is a big difference between African teams and others''
Whereas Jonas Komla, the head coach of Mali was all smiles saying: ''It was a case of all or nothing. It is the Round of 16 and we fully respected the team, my players were also fully focused on winning, which showed in the game.''
He also had a say on the Iraq coach's strong statement. With a smile on his face and a light laugh, he said: ''In football, it is important to accept the results. In a tournament of this stature, there are clear rules and testing for every player is performed before the world cup. We have passed all the required tests and guidelines, so you have to accept it.''
Coach Al-Rubaye who was barely in any mood to talk ended by saying: ''We are not going to complain (formal complaint), football is fair play and that's that. It was a good tournament it was a good experience for the players.''
Mali will now take on the winner of the Ghana and Niger Round of 16 match in the quarter-final. Coach Jonas added ''It doesn't matter who we face we will be prepared for either, we have faced both teams in friendlies as well as the U-17 African Championship but the most important thing we learnt today is that our plan of learning from our past mistakes and finishing the chances we create worked perfectly."