- As Senegal, Mali fight for bronze
Senegal and Mali will both look to end their 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup championship on a high note when they meet in an all-African third-place playoff in Auckland’s North Harbour Stadium today even as five times winners, Brazil will battle Serbia in the final to decide who emerge the new world champions.
Both African sides have enjoyed excellent campaigns in New Zealand, with their hopes of winning the tournament shattered by defeats in the semifinals. Senegal were crushed 5-0 by Brazil, while Serbia needed extra time to defeat Mali 2-1 for the second time in the competition, having also beaten the West Africans in the group phase.
However, Mali coach Fanyeri Diarra said he wants his side to claim the third place, and paid tribute to the courage of his players after the narrow defeat to Serbia in the semi- final.
“We will do everything to make that happen for our team and our people. Everyone back home has been really happy with our success during this tournament, mainly because it has been quite an unexpected story.”
Senegal mentor Joseph Koto, meanwhile, chose to focus on his team’s strengths and the achievement of reaching the final four, rather than concern himself with their heavy defeat to Brazil.
“It has been a great adventure and achievement for us with this being the first time we have ever qualified at this level. Our goal on arrival was to get out of the group stage and we did that,” said Koto.
“We have done very well and only lost one match due to our lack of experience. Our team has had a good attitude and God has helped us in our victories.”
The two nations met in the semifinals of the CAF U20 Championships in Senegal earlier this year, with the home side winning 2-1.
Brazil’s presence in the final is no surprise as they are unbeaten through the tournament and boast an excellent record at this level. The South Americans are chasing their sixth U-20 World Cup title, which would bring them level with Argentina as the tournament’s most successful nation.
Brazil coach Rogerio Micale believes his team has improved as the tournament has progressed, with their stunning 5-0 destruction of Senegal in the semifinal demonstrating that they are peaking at just the right time.
“We have had some good games and we have had some problems, but as a team, we have grown through those difficult matches. Our win over Senegal gives us confidence going into the final and at this point in the competition it is very important.”
Serbia, who have one U-20 World Cup title from 1987 (under the guise of now defunct Yugoslavia), are somewhat surprising finalists, especially as they lost their opening match of the tournament 1-0 to Uruguay. However, they have grown in stature since, and their extra time 2-1 win over Mali in the semis showed a team, which now has the belief to go all the way.