The Junior Eagles of Mali shook off their disappointing scoreless draw against Belgium to secure a deserved but hard-fought win over Ecuador.
The West Africans scored early in each half of a match they dominated, but a goal from Ecuador with 20 minutes remaining left the contest in the balance until the final moments.
The Malians started the game brightly and their efforts were duly rewarded with an early goal from Boubacar Traore who scored from close range.
There were further notable openings for Mali’s Sidiki Maiga and Traore, but both were blocked by busy goalkeeper Jose Cevallos.
Without doubt the most spectacular moment of the match came as Sekou Koita left fly from distance with what could only be described as a James Rodriguez-esque volley. However, unlike the Colombian’s famed goal, this effort bounced back off the post.
Ecuador did have a good opportunity to level scores just after the interval only for Washington Corozo to see his close-range stabbed effort blocked on the goal line.
However, it was the Malians who doubled the advantage just past the hour mark, when Aly Malle took full toll following a long pass from captain Abdoul Dante. Just as the Malians were thinking the victory had been sealed, Pervis Estupinan pulled a goal back from the penalty spot with 20 minutes remaining, after Anderson Naula was fouled.
Ecuador’s task of regaining parity was made even harder with skipper Joel Quintero sent off after receiving a second caution with ten minutes remaining.
With the win, Mali joins Belgium at the summit of Group D on four points, a point clear of Ecuador.
By Olisemeka Obeche