Mali confirmed their progress to the Round of 16 with a convincing 2-0 victory over New Zealand in their final Group B encounter at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in New Delhi.
With one win and a defeat in the competition so far, African Cup of Nations champions Mali were in the box seat coming into the match with the Kiwis in desperate need of a win to keep their hopes of making the Round of 16 alive.
It was New Zealand who were in with a clear sight of goal early on in the match but skipper Max Mata’s tame left-footed effort with only goalkeeper Youssouf Koita to beat failed to trouble the score-line.
After that, it was all Mali as the half wore on with Hadji Drame and Djemoussa Traore looking dangerous on either flank and running the Kiwi fullbacks ragged at every opportunity possible.
Kiwi striker Matthew Palmer was isolated up top on his own for the majority of the opening period as Mali imposed their dominance in midfield keeping the New Zealand defence constantly on its toes.
Mali’s attacking midfielder Salam Jiddou, who had been looking threatening all match, broke the deadlock in the 18th minute with a fierce thunderbolt from the edge of the box after being set up by Djemoussa Traore.
Mali struck straight after the interval when Djemoussa Traore added a goal to his earlier assist after he curled a beautiful shot into the top right corner, leaving Zac Jones no chance in the New Zealand goal.
The runners-up in the last edition of the U17 World Cup continued to look the better side throughout the second half with numerous attempts but some poor finishing and dogged defending by the Kiwis meant the score remained at 2-0.
Kiwi substitute Charles Spragg pulled one back for his side after heading in a lovely cross from the left by Elijah Just in the 72nd minute to give New Zealand a lifeline heading into the last 15 minutes of the match.
Lassana Ndiaye scored his first of the night and a third of the tournament in the 82nd minute after tapping in from close range following a low cross from Fode Konate.
A dominant Mali easily closed the game out to register their second win in the group and ensure progression to the Round of 16 as the second-placed team in Group B.