Mumbai, Oct 25 (IANS) Spain rode on a brace from striker Abel Ruiz to defeat an impressive Mali 3-1 and enter the final of the FIFA U-17 World Cup here on Wednesday.
Ruiz (19th, 43rd minutes) struck twice for Spain before half-time while Ferran Torres (71st) got the third goal.
Lassana N’Diaye scored a consolation goal for Mali in the 74th minute. N’Diaye and Ruiz are now the joint second highest scorers in the tournament with six goals from six matches each.
Spain will now meet England in the final on Saturday. England beat Brazil 3-1 in the other semi-final in Kolkata earlier on Wednesday.
This is the fourth time in the history of the tournament that Spain have entered the final. However, they have never managed to win the title.
The reigning European U-17 champions lost by identical 0-1 margins to Ghana and Brazil in the finals of the 1991 and 2003 editions respectively. Nigeria beat them to the title in 2007.
Spain also finished third in 1997 and 2009.
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It was heartbreak for Mali as they crashed out despite playing impressive football. The Africans played exciting, attacking football throughout their campaign and Wednesday’s match was no different.
Mali, who had reached the final of the previous edition in 2015, matched their rivals move for move for the most part and it was only the superb finishing ability of Spain centre forward Ruiz that was the major difference between the two teams.
Spain created their first chance in the second minute when a cross by Ruiz from the right was deflected by the Mali defence and Sergio Gomez punched the rebound towards goal. But Mali goalkeeper Youssouf Koita pulled off a superb diving save.
Mali replied at the other end when N’Diaye hit the side netting in the ninth minute.
Spain were awarded a penalty when a mistake by the Mali defence saw an unmarked Cesar Gelabert storm into the penalty box before being brought down by Abdoulaye Diaby. Ruiz stepped forward to give Spain the lead.
That was followed by a lengthy period during which Mali dominated possession with Spain creating regular chances on the counter. The best of those chances fell to Ruiz in the 33rd minute when his attempt beat the Mali custodian before missing the target by mere inches.
Spain doubled their lead shortly before the break when Ruiz latched on to a defence splitting pass from Gomez and found the target with a first time attempt.
Mali were denied a legitimate goal in the 62nd minute when a long range attempt from Cheick Oumar Doucoure dipped beautifully and hit the underside of the crossbar before hitting the inside of the right upright to bounce out.
But with no goal line technology to assist the referee, all the furious protests from the Mali bench came to nought even as the local crowd threw their weight behind the Africans.
Torres added to the Africans’ woes when he headed down a cross from Gomez to score Spain’s third goal.
N’Diaye reduced the margin for Mali soon after when he neatly received a cross, saw off a Spanish defender before calmly beating the goalkeeper.
That was the only piece of celebrations the African U-17 champions eventually managed in this match as Spain held on for the win.