There was much disquiet behind the scenes prior to kick-off at Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium in Guwahati on Saturday, as 48 hours of incessant rain threatened to cast doubt on the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 quarter-final between Mali and Ghana. This sense of uncertainty did not affect the players in the Malian dressing room, however.
“The weather is not something we worry about,” Mali attacker Hadji Drame, who slammed home his side’s opening goal, told FIFA.com. “No matter the conditions, we go out onto the pitch with the intention of winning.” Indeed, despite facing the elements and formidable opponents in the shape of on-form Ghana, the Eaglets secured a creditable 2-1 victory to advance to the semi-finals.
Mali put in a composed and tactically astute performance, controlling the game for long periods and remaining true to their attacking philosophy, as they recorded – not for the first time – over 20 attempts on goal, versus eight by the Black Starlets.
“We played well and used the ball intelligently,” said Drame, who has now hit the back of the net three times at India 2017. “Ghana played a lot of high balls, so we tried our best to get the ball back down on the deck. We kept our heads, and that made the difference in the end.”
The talented striker may only be 17, but he has proved himself capable of analysing his team’s displays with great maturity. Of course, this is no great surprise when his family background – his father, Djibril Drame, has coached professionally in Mali for years – is taken into account.
“At home, he’s my dad, but his coaching side is never far away – I get the best of both worlds!” said Drame Jr, proud of the achievements of his father, who guided Stade Malien to glory in the CAF Confederation Cup in 2009 and steered the Malian national team to a first-ever CAF African Nations Championship final in 2016. He is currently in charge of Bamako-based Onze Createurs, who play in the Malian top tier.
Advice from a father and coach
– “My dad’ll call me – he’ll probably congratulate me and give me encouragement ahead of my next match. He’ll say that the quarter-final is already in the past and that I have to focus on the semi-final now.”
– “He does give me advice, yes – he always says that if I play, I should keep my concentration from start to finish. He also says that I have to be physically and mentally strong, and that I should always be ready for anything.”
The pointers that the young No7 has received from his father have clearly borne fruit – while two Ghanaian defenders slipped, as he and his team-mates swiftly built the move that culminated in the Eaglets’ first-half opener, he maintained his concentration and his footing to powerfully stroke the ball past the goalkeeper.
“Every time I score, it makes me happy, it makes me feel stronger and it makes me want to get another goal to help my team to win,” concluded Drame, who will be keen to get on the scoreboard again during Wednesday’s semi-final, irrespective of the playing conditions.