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FIFA could merge U17, U20 World Cups

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FIFA Under-17 World Cup
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'Lucky' USA make Ghana pay for costly misses

Forty minutes into the match, Eric Ayiah was a fraction of a second away from celebrating a World Cup goal. It had nearly all been done for him. He had been played on past the USA defence and proceeded to nutmeg the keeper Justin Garces. An empty goal and the lead for his side awaited. Instead, Ayiah managed to trip on his feet and fell face forward onto the turf. The ball continued trickling goal bound until it was cleared a few yards away from the line.

The crowd at the Jawaharalal Nehru stadium groaned, Ghana coach Samuel Fabin put his hands on his hips, and the match continued. Glaring chances would be missed by both teams throughout the course of the match. USA spurned a glorious one off a short corner in the 47th minute, while for Ghana, Sadiq Ibrahim had a shot blocked by Garces, and a second attempt from him in front of the goal was cleared off the line in the last second.

In total, there were 29 shots on goal in a match that was eventually decided in favour of the USA by an Ayo Akinola strike in the 75th minute.

"We had been working on our scoring in practice but it appears that we have to work even more on it now. If you have the advantage but don't take it you lose the match," Fabin said after the game. After all, it wasn't the first time his side had been profligate. In their opening game against Colombia, his side had missed multiple opportunities before picking up a 1-0 win.

In some aspects the match was an aberration at this World Cup where scorelines have largely been generous. But teams have for the most part required multiple opportunities to score. Even if it is a World Cup, these are matches that are being played between youngsters, just out of school with limited experience. There will always be more margin for error compared to senior compatriots. Indian coach Luis Matos had admitted as much, saying that even the best teams  would need around three goal-scoring opportunities before converting one.

In an honest assessment, USA striker Tim Weah said there was a vast gulf in standards of play at the U-17 World Cup and when he trained with the PSG first team. "It is a different world, a higher level. You have to be more mature. You can't make childish mistakes at that level," he said.

The difference in conversion efficiency is natural, says USA coach John Hackworth. "To be fair we were really deflated and tired after the 35-minute mark. But that always happens at this age group. The players just get tired a lot faster because they haven't physically developed completely," he said. Which is why it didn't make much sense to be too critical of a youth side. "It depends on the game. There has to be some consideration because I don't think there were as many clear chances."

Hackworth feels that in games played between two equally competitive teams, it would always be a moment of inspiration or madness that makes the difference. As it happened, Monday's winner would come from a steal by Chris Durkin, who passed to Chris Goslin, who in turn sent Akinola through to goal. "Before we scored, I told my assistant coach, it would come down to a single play that would decide the match. Luckily when we got a chance, our side was able to make it count."

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