On Monday evening the USA became the first team to qualify for the round of 16 of the FIFA under-17 World Cup as they edged past a fighting Ghana 1-0 in a Group A match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi with substitute Ayo Akinola scoring the all-important goal in the 75th minute.
With this win, the USA, who had defeated India 3-0 in their first match, collected three more points to take their tally to six. Ghana has three points from the group so far with one game remaining, against India. The other team in the group is Colombia, who were scheduled to play the hosts India in the second match in Delhi, starting at 8 p.m.
Striker Akinola, 17, had replaced Tim Weah in the 63rd minute and 12 minutes later he struck the goal that eventually ensured his team’s entry into the pre-quarter-finals.
Interestingly, twice under-17 champions Ghana had an upper hand during most of the 90 minutes, but were unlucky not to have converted chances into goals. Ghana’s dominance could be gauged from the the numerous attempts at goal. Champions in 1991 and 1995, Ghana had three shots at the goal out of 18 attempts while the USA had two shots on target out of 11. However, the USA had more of the ball, shading possession at 54 percent to Ghana’s 46 percent.
On Monday, the USA-Ghana match was played under 30-plus degree Celsius temperature or thereabouts and it was so warm inside the stadium that even the referee and the linesmen were seen sipping water every now and then.
The USA has participated in 15 of the 16 editions of the Under-17 World Cup, missing only the 2013 edition. Their best performance came in 1999 in New Zealand, where they finished fourth, after going down to Australia on penalties in the semi-finals.
The Americans have reached the quarter-finals on four other occasions, the last being in 2005 in Peru.