U-20 World Cup: Ukraine keeps chugging, Italy downs Mali

Associated Press
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Ukraine and Italy confirmed places in the 2019 U-20 World Cup semifinals with impressive victories over skillful Colombia and Mali sides on Friday.

Danylo Sikan scored the game’s only goal 11 minutes in as Ukraine topped Colombia 1-0 to remain unbeaten in the competition and become the first semifinalist of the tournament. The strike came on an ugly error in judgement by Colombia goalkeeper Kevin Mier who came way out of the box to play a long ball over the top, but with Colombia center-back Carlos Cuesta slow to react and Mier late to arrive, Sikan won the contest outside the box and poked the ball into the empty net.

Colombia looked for an equalizer but it never came, holding 63% possession and popping off 11 shots, but only one of those efforts found the target. With seven minutes remaining, Colombia fell down to 10 men as substitute Johan Carbonero was harshly sent off for a challenge on Dynamo Kiev youth product Denys Popov.

Italy, meanwhile, moved on as well thanks to a wild 4-2 victory over 10-man Mali on a brace from Andrea Pinamonti that twice gave Italy the lead, including the winner from the penalty spot in the 83rd minute. The European side went in front just 12 minutes in on an awful own-goal by Ibrahima Kone who kicked an Italy corner into the back of his own net right on the doorstep under very little pressure.

Mali fell down a man in the 21st minute when Ousmane Diakite, who plays in the Austrian second tier, went in studs up on Gianluca Scamacca with a nasty follow-through. That left Mali with a mountain to climb, but they would manage to stick right with the Italians through the final minutes. The first equalizer came via Seikou Keita before halftime on a wonderful back-heel delivery from Kone.

Pinamonti would give Italy its second lead in the 60th minute, latching onto a deflected shot and finishing from an absurdly tight angle almost standing on the end line. Now down 2-1 with a half-hour left, Mali would not quit, drawing level at 2-2 with 11 minutes to go when substitute Boubacar Traore roasted Davide Bettella which set up a two-on-two break, and Traore fed Mohamed Camara for the finish on the doorstep.

That’s when the wheels fell off for Mali and Italy took control. Just four minutes after Mali’s late equalizer, Pinamonti was felled by Mali goalkeeper Youssouf Koita and earned a penalty, dispatching it for the lead. Just a minute later, Davide Fratessi confirmed the victory with a bullet long-range header on a perfect looping cross from Raoul Bellanova to make it 4-2.

Koita had a chance to make it 4-3 deep in stoppage time, but his 94th minute penalty was saved by Alessandro Plizzari before he fired a chance wide on the ensuing corner with the last kick of the game.

The two European sides will meet in the first semifinal set for Tuesday in Lublin. The other semifinal will take place on Wednesday between the winners of quarterfinal matchups United States vs. Ecuador and South Korea vs. Senegal, both to be determined tomorrow.