Brazil soaked up the pressure from a strong first-half performance by African champions Mali to clinch the third place at the U-17 World Cup, with Alan (55th minute) and second-half substitute Yuri Alberto (88th minute) scoring in a 2-0 win at the Salt Lake Stadium, Kolkata on Saturday.
Both teams went in needing to pick themselves up for a game neither would have wanted to play. Brazil began their pre-match warm-up with a quiet huddle by the centreline, before soaking in the applause from the stadium. At the national anthems, though, there was an equal amount of cheer for both teams, reflecting Kolkata's love of the underdog in a sporting contest.
While Brazil fielded an unchanged eleven from their semi-final defeat to England, Jonas Komla made two changes to the Mali starting lineup, with midfielder Mohamed Camara returning from suspension to lead the side, while centre-back Mamadi Fofana replaced Abdoulaye Diaby.
It was Camara who combined well initially with right-back Fode Konate and striker Hadji Drame to create some pressure on the rival defence, but Brazil's Alan nearly found himself with a shooting opportunity inside the Malian box in the fourth minute, before the ball was taken clean off him. Within seconds, left-back Ibrahim Kane would catch Brazil on the counter and whip a low ball in for striker Lassana N'Diaye, who failed to make any contact.
The end-to-end nature of the game early on meant Brazil's first attempt from inside the box -- Flamengo striker Lincoln trying to control and squirt the ball goalwards with a side-volley in the eighth minute -- would soon be followed by an N'Diaye shot with his left foot that was probably going out of play anyway, but Brazil goalkeeper Gabriel Brazao took no chances in holding on.
In the 16th minute, Lincoln would outrun his marker on the right and get behind the Mali defence before looping a ball in for Paulinho at the far post, who then set up a shot for left-back Weverson, but the Sao Paulo defender failed to keep his first attempt of the evening on target.
Mali then had three opportunities in quick succession -- first central defender Boubacar Haidara extracted a save off a free-kick from Brazao in the 21st minute, before midfielder Salam Jiddou worked a one-two to get into the Brazil box but failed to keep a low shot on target. In the 26th minute, Mali took a free-kick quickly after left-back Djemoussa Traore was pulled down by Wesley, and Camara took a stinging long-ranger that didn't miss the goal by a long distance.
Mali continued pushing Brazil deep inside their half, and almost broke through when Camara and N'Diaye worked their way into the box, but were denied by the latter's shot being blocked in the 34th minute. A minute later, defensive midfielder Mamadou Samake would send a hopeful long-range shot over Brazao's crossbar.
Mali's best chance fell to Jiddou in the 40th minute, when he was played in from the right by N'Diaye, and his powerful strike at goal was tipped over by Brazao. Three minutes later, Jiddou played a short corner out of the left, and played on to Camara, whose shot bounced out of Brazao's gloves, but the Brazil goalkeeper recovered early enough to beat N'Diaye's presence just in front of him.
The second half began with another sprightly move from Mali inside three minutes, with Drame's low cross from the right almost meeting an unmarked N'Diaye inside the box. Brazil responded tactically by pushing Alan into a centre-forward's role, with Lincoln dropping deep, and in the 55th minute, a low ball whipped in from the left found Brenner, who shot over the bar. Within seconds, though, Alan would attempt a low shot when he sprung the offside trap, and his shot was half-saved by goalkeeper Youssouf Koita and rolled into the Mali net, bringing the Salt Lake Stadium to its feet.
Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu would go conservative with his substitutions, both done close to the hour-mark, by bringing on defender Rodrigo Guth and midfielder Rodrigo Nestor to replace Victor Bobsin and Alan, but it was Mali who had the next opportunity when N'Diaye rose inside the Brazil box in the 65th minute, but failed to get any power behind his header. Four minutes later, Traore would create space in the middle for Camara, whose powerful shot again went whizzing past the left post of Brazao.
With the game slipping out of their grasp, Mali coach Jonas Komla made three attack-minded changes going into the last 10 minutes, introducing strikers Seme Camara, Mahamane Toure and midfielder Cheick Oumar Doucoure, but found Brazil defending in good numbers. Their best chance to score came in the 86th minute, with the stadium firmly behind them, and Traore created space for himself in a maze of canary yellow, yet shot wide off the mark.
Mali had committed far too many players forward by this stage, and Brazil's Brenner took advantage of space on the right to pull away from the defence and send in a square pass for Yuri Alberto, who took his time before slotting the ball past Koita.
Fittingly, the game ended with some relentless attacking from Mali, with Doucoure getting two rasping shots in at goal during added time, but Brazao and the other Brazil defenders held firm for what was their fourth clean-sheet of the seven matches played in India.
This is the second time that three-time champions Brazil have finished third at the U-17 World Cup, having done so in the first edition in 1985.
Amadeu called Saturday's game "the worst match of all the last two and a half years" but said that luck was on their side. "You saw what happened with the first goal, which had three errors," he said. "First, their defender miskicked a ball, which fell to Alan, who tried to shoot but fluffed his shot, and then you saw what happened with their goalkeeper. But this is football."
Amadeu also revealed what he said at the huddle just at the start of the game, saying that the Brazilian way to play a match like this was "to live" now that they had lost their semi-final. "Today I told the boys, this crowd could have been there just for the final," he said. "But they have come for the third-place match and to see Brazil and Mali play. Let's give them a show."