England and South Korea advance to the knockout rounds of the 2017 Men's U-20 World Cup as expected, though perhaps not in the order expected. England is the Group A winner; the home team has to settle for the runner-up spot. Argentina's big win over Guinea gives it a small but not insignificant chance of qualifying for the round of 16 as one of the better third-placed teams in the group stage.
England 1-0 South Korea
Kieran Dowell's 56th-minute goal gave England all three points in a game that saw both sides generate good chances. The goal was South Korea's cue to bring star-player Lee Seung-woo off the bench, but England rotated its lineup for this match also - so it's hard to make the case that one team was taking the game more or less seriously than the other. Indeed, the Koreans had a 35,000-strong crowd mostly on their side, so taking it easy with qualification assured wasn't really an option.
The experience of playing the home team in front of a big crowd in the stadium that will host final should give England some confidence that it can handle whatever this tournament has in store for it. The team had coughed up a lead and slumped to a draw against Guinea in its last outing, saving its opponent the trouble of scoring an equalizer by generously conceding a remarkably soft own-goal (full-back Fikayo Tomori put a back-pass beyond his 'keeper's reach).
The clean sheet and the win over what has looked one of the form teams in the tournament concludes a satisfying group stage for England. The team advances as the winner of Group A - the Group of Death in the estimation of many observers - and has beaten Argentina and South Korea along the way. It looks well warmed up for the knockout rounds.
The home team will be disappointed not to have won the group, but it's in the round of 16 and the experience of the group stage suggests South Korea's U-20s will have large crowds turning out to watch them for as long as they are in this competition.
Argentina 5-0 Guinea
In a must-win game for both sides, Argentina rose best to the occasion. Or rather, Argentina kept doing what it had been doing in its preceding games, but it worked out this time. The team hasn't had much difficulty creating chances in this tournament, those chances just weren't getting converted. Against England, Argentina fashioned 22 shots, put five on target, and none went in the net. Against South Korea, eight of 19 shots were on target, but only one beat the 'keeper. Finally, against Guinea, Argentina produced a scoreline to match what have been consistently eye-catching attacking statistics.
Marcelo Torres opened the scoring in the 30th minute; Lautaro Martinez added the second in the 43rd. Federico Zaracho made it 3-0 after 50 minutes; Marcos Senesi had the fourth in the 74th, and Martinez got his second and Argentina's fifth in the 79th minute.
The rout sent Guinea home with little to celebrate from this tournament. The team's only goal of the competition was the one gifted them by England's Fikayp Tomori.
Argentina did as much as it could to boost its chance of sticking around at this World Cup. Three points is all it has to show for its group stage efforts, and that will likely be one of the lower points totals for third-placed teams in the group stage. But if three points does get a team to the knockout rounds as one of the top four third-placed sides in the groups, Argentina looks a good bet to be that luckiest of the lucky losers - it's unlikely there will be another team finishing the group stage with three points and a positive goal difference.
So the big win made Argentina's slender hope of advancing as good as it can be. Now the Argentines must wait for the rest of the groups to play out, and root for the results that will see their third-place finish in Group A stand up as one of the best third-place finishes in this stage of the tournament.
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- England will play the third-placed team from either Group C, D, or E depending on how lucky-loser qualifying for the knockout rounds plays out. At present that could be any one of nine teams: Portugal, Iran, or Costa Rica from group C; Italy, Japan, or South Africa from Group D; New Zealand, Vietnam, or Honduras from Group E.
- South Korea will face the Group C runner-up, which technically could be any of the teams in that group. Zambia, Portugal, Iran, and Costa Rica each might land in the runner-spot in Group C depending on the results of their final games. Expectations are that Portugal or Iran will take second place in the group, but all options are still open.
- If Argentina gets out of the group as one of the top four third-placed teams, it will be looking at a game against either the winner of Group B - Venezuela - or the winner of Group C (most likely Zambia; possibly Iran).