Mali Stumble As Africa Recovers In Meridian Cup

Accra — Mali have suffered another heavy defeat at the Under-17 Meridian Cup in Bari, as African teams revive from their nightmarish start against their European counterparts.

Hosts, Italy defeated the Malians 3-0 on Monday, but Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria drew in their respective matches.

Mali are yet to score a single goal with two matches against Portugal and the Czech Republic still to play.

Italy pressurised the Malians from the start and almost snatched the opening goal after the home side's captain, Felice Piccolo had his header cleared off the line in the 5th minute.

However, the Malians could not hold on for long as Torino's Fabio Quagliarella put his side ahead with a shot from the right edge of the box into the far corner of the net. And 11 minutes later, Quagliarella failed to score a clear chance and just before half-time, his goal was disallowed for offside.

There was a short-lived Malian revival in the second-half to give the Italian keeper busy - Souleymane Dembele and Alain-Claude Traore failed to make use of their chances. Sidi Yaya Keita also hit the post from 20 metres.

With 20 minutes to go Orlando Fanasca sent the keeper the wrong way from the penalty spot for Italy after Bembele fouled Niccolo Galli.

The goal demoralised the Malians as Italy went on to score their third goal in the 85th minute, when Galli headed Nicola Beati's corner.

The 1-1 draw between Spain and Cameroon was a physical and tactically tough encounter played under poor conditions in a rain-soaked pitch and chilly strong winds.

The Spaniards took the lead in the first-half through Jonan Garcia and Cameroon equalised from a scrappy goal, when Andre Zame's effort was turned into the Spanish net by Alexander Goikoetxea.

Ghana drew 1-1 with a 10-man Portuguese side, that took the lead in the 10th minute through Joao Paiva. However, the Black Starlets started to shine after the interval and their drive towards the Portuguese goal was rewarded in the 66th minute when Lawrence Quaye hit the bar and Sulley Muntari latched on to the rebound, only to strike the bar again. However it was third time lucky for striker Michael Ocansey who turned the second rebound into the net.

It took 66 minutes for the first goal to come between Nigeria and the Czech Republic. Eemmanuel Baba put Nigeria ahead following a goalmouth scramble, but Pavel Fort headed an equaliser for the Czechs from a freekick in the 77th minute.

The Meridien Cup is a bi-annual event organised under a pact between the football confederations of Europe and Africa. Each of the African sides will play all their European counterparts with the winning continent decided by the number of points accumulated by each confederation.

Europe now have 16 points as against four for Africa after two matches in the tournament.

FIXTURES JANUARY 31 Nigeria v Spain: Della Vittoria stadium, Bari Ghana v Italy: Degli Ulivi stadium, Andria Mali v Portugal: Gaetano Ventura stadium, Bisceglie Cameroon v Czech Republic: Comunale stadium, Trani

FIXTURES FEBRUARY 2 Czech Republic v Mali: Comunale stadium, Bitonto Portugal v Cameroon: Comunale Nuovo stadium, Barletta Spain v Ghana: Comunale stadium, Rutigliano Italy v Nigeria: Della Vittoria stadium, Bari

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