Spain became the first team to advance to the knockout stages of the FIFA Under-20 World Cup, earning a lackluster, but welcome 1-0 victory over Ghana in Group A on Monday, while the US boosted their chances of reaching the round-of-16 with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with France after a late strike by Daniel Cuevas.
Spain, the tournament favorites, were a shadow of the team that routed the US 4-1. They rarely threatened and often appeared unsettled by Ghana’s pressing style.
The only real chance for Spain came in the 13th minute when Denis Suarez took a long ball and sent a pass to an unmarked Jese, who tapped it in.
Ghana had the better chances in the second period, but struggled with their finishing.
A header by Frank Acheapong went wide in the 55th minute, then Yiadome Boakye spun around and fired his shot just over the bar three minutes later.
Ghana’s Ebenezer Assifuah was taken down in the penalty area in stoppage-time by defender Israel Puerto, but no penalty was given.
“We played a strong physical team and we had a lot of chances,” Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said. “We scored one goal and dominated the second half. We are very happy to be in the second round.”
Ghana’s Sellas Tetteh praised his players’ “brave” effort and blamed the poor finishing on inexperience.
Ghana must beat the US in their final group match tomorrow to have any chance of advancing.
“You never call it over until it’s over,” Tetteh said. “That is the game of football. There is nothing that is impossible. We will give it our final shot.”
In the earlier match, France looked likely to win and advance after AJ Auxerre striker Yaya Sanogo scored his second goal of the tournament from the penalty spot in the 48th minute. It came after Dimitri Foulquier was sideswiped by Javan Torre in the penalty area.
The US had a few chances, but they failed to convert — the worst when Luis Gil’s penalty was easily saved in the 65th minute — but they grew in confidence toward the end and it paid off in the 85th minute. Gil made up for his miss, curving a free-kick into the area that Cuevas pounced on and scored.
“I feel like they were confused. They couldn’t get the ball out and luckily it took a bounce my way and I got to push it in,” Cuevas said.
The late goal showed the character of the US team, he said.
“Our team is very united, and we are always together and pushing forward,” Cuevas said. “If things don’t go our way, we keep trying and keep trying until they do. Luckily we got the tie.”
US coach Tab Ramos admitted he was a “little disappointed” with the performance early on, but happy to come away with a draw.
“My disappointment is that in a game like today we should have gotten all three points,” Ramos said. “At the end of the day, it was great courage, effort by our team.”
The US sit third in the table, three points behind France in the second automatic qualifying spot. They are unlikely to overtake France due to their inferior goal-difference, but they still have a good shot at one of the four spots for the best third-placed teams.
France, who could have advanced with a win, failed to repeat the form that saw them beat Ghana 3-1 in their opener.
“I don’t think we had great control of the game tonight,” France coach Pierre Mankowski said. “It feels a bit strange because the US team was hardly dangerous, but they had situations they should have never had. We conceded a penalty and a free-kick, which led to their goal.”
France will be without captain Paul Pogba for their final group match against Spain after he received a second yellow card in two matches.
“The boys were really disappointed at the end of the game,” Mankowski said. “Playing without Pogba for the last crucial game against Spain is something we have to figure out tomorrow [Tuesday] when things will be quieter.”
In the early match in Group B, Nigeria got their campaign on track with a 3-0 win over newcomers Cuba.
Aminu Umar scored twice in four minutes and captain Abdul Ajagun got his third of the tournament as the Africans easily beat Cuba.
Nigeria opened the scoring when Olarenwaju Kayodefed fed Umar for an easy tap-in with 19 minutes gone. Four minutes later, Abdullahi Shehu drilled in a cross which Umar flicked between his legs for the goal.
Nigeria completed the rout in the 67th minute when Kingsley Madu’s cross was headed home by Ajagun.
South Korea twice came from behind to draw with Portugal 2-2 in the other Group B match.
With the draw, South Korea and Portugal are level on four points, with Nigeria a point behind in third place.
Portugal’s Aladje opened the scoring with a header, before Ryu Seung-woo drew South Korea level just before halftime.
Sporting’s Armindo “Bruma” of Portugal got his third goal of the tournament in the 60th minute, before Kim Hyun drew South Korea level again in the 76th minute.