U.S. comes back, stuns favorites France at U-20 World Cup

Associated Press
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The United States challenged in the first half, but it appeared as if the U-20 World Cup favorites France were too much to handle. Suddenly, in the blink of an eye, the U.S. had completed a stunning comeback to win 3-2 and secured a spot in the quarterfinals, while the giants were out.

Sebastian Soto’s brace led the way for the United States, cancelled out by France goals from Amine Gouiri and Nabil Alioui until substitute Justin Rennecks pounced with eight minutes to go for the winner.

The opening 20 minutes were of high quality on both ends. France as expected dominated possession, but struggled to do much with it early. The United States had the first good opportunity as Richie Ledezma couldn’t finish from a tight angle, while France came close down the other end with Mickael Cuisance’s cross to Nabil Alioui much too strong, surprising the Monaco youth product who headed over the bar.

Timothy Weah came close on 20 minutes as he turned Enzo Loiodice around but was foiled by France goalkeeper Alban Lafont coming off his line and snuffing out Weah’s attempted chip. That was a harbinger for the French defense which was torn to pieces on the opening goal 25 minutes in. Ledezma broke through the middle and ran it straight down the French throats, with the favorites caught on their heels. He fed a beautiful ball right between the French center-backs for Sebastian Soto through on goal who controlled nervously and finished a curler for the game’s first goal.

France picked things up after the opener and worked a shot off the woodwork in the 36th minute. A wonderful bit of combination play in the box fell to Cuisance who cut a shot from the penalty spot and clattered it off the outside of the right post. The hosts tied things up just before halftime on the counter with the United States caught way too high up the field, which left Aboubakar Kamara all alone to defend a two-man break. Moussa Diaby fed Lyon youth product Amine Gouiri who was clean through and a cool finish brought France back level at 1-1.

A key moment in the first half was an injury to U.S. midfielder Paxton Pomykal, who seemed to be troubled by a painful knock to his lower back. He returned to the field after treatment, but was clearly slowed.

In the second half, there was a quick VAR check for handball in the 52nd minute but Diaby’s shot hit Kamara’s elbow tucked in to his body and nothing rightly came of it. With the United States looking gassed past the hour mark, Tab Ramos made a double change bringing Ledezma and Konrad de la Fuente off with Ulysses Llanez and Justin Rennecks entering the fray.

Completely against the run of play, the United States found an equalizer with 15 minutes to go. Llanez held the ball strongly as the Baby Yanks entered the attacking third, and Weah did excellent work in heavy traffic to feed Soto who timed his run perfectly off the back of the French defensive line. Through on goal, he finished to level the score at 2-2.

With the United States energized, they surged forward. At times it appeared dangerous, but Ramos understandably wished to try for a winner in regulation rather than suffer through another 30 minutes of extra time on tired U.S. legs. He would find a winner through substitute Rennecks after Sergino Dest fired off an absolute howitzer from distance that stung Lafont’s hands, the ball spilling to the turf at the far post. Rennecks pounced and reached the ball before Lafont could recover, handing the U.S. a lead with eight minutes to go.

Soto nearly sealed it in the 89th minute, through on goal again, but he tried to round the goalkeeper and Lafont was on hand to collect off his feet. France fought tooth and nail for the equalizer, but they couldn’t come any closer than Dan-Axel Zagadou’s missed header in the 91st minute. The final whistle sounded, and the United States was on to the quarterfinals for the third straight cycle while France’s tournament came to an early end. The U.S. takes on Ecuador on Saturday, as the CONMEBOL side took down fellow South American side Uruguay 3-1 in their quarterfinal matchup.