Japan seal knockout stage berth
Bydgoszcz: Japan missed a penalty but it didn't matter in the end as they played to a 0-0 draw with Italy at the Bydgoszcz Stadium to confirm their 2019 U-20 FIFA World Cup Poland Round of 16 berth on Wednesday.
The draw meant Japan finished second in Group B on five points, two behind group winners Italy. Ecuador, meanwhile, defeated Mexico 1-0 to finish third on four points and will be hopeful of advancing to the knockout stage as one of the best four third-placed teams.
Japan will meet the runners-up from Group F, possibly Asian rivals Korea Republic, in the Round of 16 on Tuesday.
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Knowing a point would be enough to secure their passage to knockout football, Japan head coach Masanaga Kageyama's side played with more urgency than already-qualified Italy, with more possession and shot attempts than Paolo Nicolato's side.
The Italian manager made nine changes from their last game and gave six players their first minutes at this U-20 World Cup, including goalkeeper Marco Carnesecchi.
The Atalanta-based keeper came up with the match's biggest moment when he saved Hiroki Ito's penalty in the 11th minute. Referee Mustapha Ghorbal awarded the penalty after Kyosuke Tagawa was brought down by Alessandro Buongiorno. Tagawa had to exit the game minutes later after he picked up what looked to be a hamstring injury.
Italy did give Japan a scare in front of goal midway through the second half when Marco Olivieri broke free to create a one-on-one with Japan keeper Tomoya Wakahara, but the Kyoto Sanga custodian displayed his quick reflexes and made the crucial save, which proved to be enough to bring his team the point they needed to book their place in the next round.
On Thursday, Qatar - having suffered defeats against Nigeria (4-0) and Ukraine (1-0) - will be determined to take the three points in their final Group D match against USA.
Korea Republic, meanwhile, meet Argentina in their final Group F tie on Friday needing a win for a confirmed knockout stage spot.
The East Asians rebounded from a 1-0 defeat to Portugal to defeat South Africa by a similar score on Matchday Two and sit on three points, the same as Portugal with Argentina having already advanced.
Saudi Arabia, having lost 2-0 to France and 4-3 to Mali, have to defeat Panama in their final Group E match to have any hope of advancing.
Sources: FIFA.com, FIFA via Getty Images
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