The final day of group stage play has come to an end and the knockout stages are set, with some surprises.
Most notably, Panama took down Saudi Arabia 2-1 for its first U-20 World Cup victory ever to finish with four points, good enough not only for third in Group E behind powerful Mali and France, but also good enough to pip mighty Portugal for the final third-place qualification slot. Both teams ended group stage play with four points and a -1 goal differential, so Panama advances having scored three goals to Portugal’s two.
Portugal could have advanced with a win on the final day, but instead a 1-1 draw with South Africa left them to their fate, while Argentina and South Korea advanced out of Group F, each with six points after a 2-1 South Korea win over the Argentines on the final day.
In addition, France’s narrow 3-2 win over Mali sees the favorites win Group E and earn a date with the United States in the Round of 16. France could have won the group with a draw as well, but found an 87th minute winner from 19-year-old Lyon striker Amine Gouiri. That goal made it 3-1 at the time, but Ousmane Diakite made it the decisive goal with his 95th minute goal with the last kick of the game.
The U.S. advanced out of Group D yesterday with a second-place finish behind Ukraine, and with France’s victory on Friday, the two will meet Wednesday in what will prove an uphill battle for the Americans, missing key players Alex Mendez and Chris Durkin due to yellow card accumulation.
Other Round of 16 matchups include Colombia vs. New Zealand, Ukraine vs. Panama, Italy vs. Poland, Japan vs. South Korea, and Senegal vs. Nigeria. The winner of the U.S. and France will match up against the winner of Uruguay and Ecuador, while maybe the match of the round pits Argentina against Mali.