U-20 World Cup roundup: Portugal, Serbia roll; Mexico eliminated

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The knockout round is almost complete, and five more teams have punched their tickets into the knockout round of the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand last night as Groups C and D wrapped up.

With qualification at any cost the only thing on everyone’s minds, we had it all in this round of matches: domination, near-miss, disappointing elimination, and countries barely squeaking through.

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A quick recap in the four games from last night:

Portugal 3-1 Colombia

The Portuguese have cemented themselves as the most dominant team of the tournament so far, throttling Colombia in Dunedin to remain the only team yet to make it through the entire group stage with a perfect record. Nuno Santos opened the scoring in just the third minute with a vicious free-kick, and Andre Silva picked up his second and third goals of the tournament in the second half to ease Portugal through.

Colombia, however, scored an absolutely vital goal in the 74th minute through Santos Borre that wound up clinching knockout round status for Los Cafateros via goal differential, as Colombia remained level on 4 points with Senegal but just one score better than their African counterparts. Had they been shut out, a drawing of lots would have taken place to determine which team would go through for certain. Colombia will now face the United States in the first round of the knockout stage.

Senegal 2-1 Qatar

The Africans leveled themselves on points with Colombia and knocked out Qatar with a 2-1 comeback win in Hamilton, and while it wasn’t enough to give them guaranteed qualification, Senegal can still go through with a little help on the final day.

Akram Afif slotted home a penalty in the 17th minute to put Qatar on top with their first goal of the tournament, and it would remain that way through a sleepy first half before both teams scrapped their way through the second half with qualification likely on the line. Both teams had chances early after the break, with Qatar nearly going two-up thanks to what would have been a highlight for the ages as goalkeeper Yousof Hassan nearly caught his opposition netminder Ibrahima Sy off his line with a punt, but Sy recovered to save face with a last-ditch header. Alhassane Sylla bagged a lob in the 76th minute, and with Senegal jolted to life, Moussa Kone struck the winner just five ticks later.

It was enough to put Senegal level on points with Colombia, but a single goal worse on differential means they’ll have to sweat out the final day hoping to earn qualification on the table of third-place teams. Senegal will still qualify as long as two of the four teams below them – Honduras, Fiji, Hungary, and Nigeria – stay there. A Hungary and Nigeria draw would put them above Senegal, while Fiji and Honduras must both win to get above them.

Serbia 2-0 Mexico

It’s all gone wrong for Mexico in New Zealand as they were eliminated in a disappointing loss to Serbia with everything on the line. An opening-round loss to Mali was where things started to look grim, but their last-second 2-1 win over Uruguay gave them hope coming into the final round. But an early strike for the Group D leaders put them ahead, and solid defending sealed it down the stretch.

Terrible marking on a corner allowed Serbia to take the lead in just the 2nd minute thanks to Nemanja Maksimovic’s head, with the 20-year-old trailing the play. They’d bag a vital insurance goal just two minutes before the break as Andrija Zivkovic struck a free-kick into the back of the net. The leaders then soaked up plenty of pressure from the Mexicans throughout the second half, with the CONCACAF champions unable to break through and finishing bottom of a tough Group D with three points.

Mali 1-1 Uruguay

A draw was enough to put both teams on four points and send them through to the knockout stages as the dangerous Franco Acosta scored his first goal of the tournament in the 17th minute before Mali answered a minute before halftime thanks to a free-kick inside the box when Uruguay keeper Gaston Guruceaga handled a back-pass. Adama Traore scored for the second time this competition on the ensuing set-piece, and the second half was a formality with both sides content to remain even.