Group D closed out relatively quietly with a pair of draws, ultimately sending Uruguay, Italy, and Japan through to the knockout rounds.
Uruguay 0-0 South Africa
South Africa heads home after a disappointing group stage in which it scored one goal and picked up one point. The team had plenty of chances to score and at least threaten to move up to third in Group D, but the ball wouldn't go in the net. Uruguay had its share of opportunities also, and was similarly unsuccessful in front of goal.
But Uruguay was assured a place in the knockout rounds before this game kicked off, and the pressure was on South Africa to find a result. And for as long as Italy was leading Japan in the other Group D match - which is to say, until the 50th minute of that game - a goal for South Africa would have raised the possibility of the team maybe getting into the knockout rounds.
The South Africans never found that goal, and once Japan equalized against Italy, third place in Group D was a forlorn hope at best.
The point clinched top spot in Group D for Uruguay. The team must wait until the group stage concludes to find out which third-placed qualifier it will play in the round of 16.
Italy 2-2 Japan
Italy started out hot, scoring twice in the first 10 minutes. Japan's defense proved a little too easy to get behind in the initial moments of the match; Riccardo Orsolini and Giuseppe Panico took advantage.
A two-goal loss put Japan in danger of being forced out of third place by South Africa. Ritsu Doan - MVP of the 2016 AFC U-19 Championship - led the fightback. He was credited with Japan's first goal, though it was largely down to 'keeper Andrea Zaccagno getting pinned to his line by the flight of the cross and Doan's run to meet it in the six-yard box. Japan's second goal was all down to Doan, who weaved his way through Italy's defense and rolled the ball into the net.
With scores level, neither side needed to worry about the result of the Uruguay-South Africa game, and Japan knew that it had a qualifying spot secure on tiebreakers over rival third-placed teams in other groups. The tie became increasingly too good to refuse for both sides as time progressed, until they eventually abandoned any pretense of having any interest in pursuing a different result.
What happens when two teams know they are qualified for the knockouts if the score remains as it is, but either could be eliminated if one more goal were to be scored?
Japan fought its way back from two goals down and almost certain elimination from the World Cup to claim a 2-2 draw with Italy that saw both teams qualify from Group D for the round of 16.
There will be plenty of other teams upset at the lack of fight for a clear result, though those teams of course might well have made the same choice Japan and Italy did when faced with the opportunity to simply take qualification for the knockout rounds and wait for the final whistle.
By virtue of having more points than Argentina and scoring more group-stage goals than Germany, Japan is certain of being one of the top-four third-placed teams emerging from the groups at this tournament, and is therefore guaranteed a place in the round of 16. One advantage of playing after a few other groups have been settled is there is less uncertainty about what outcome is required to make qualification safe. Japan and Italy knew they were safe and played for the mutually beneficial result.
Argentina's knockout round hopes now rest entirely on the outcome of the final round of games in Groups E and F. Germany will be sweating a little too. Neither team will thank Japan and Italy. Nor will group-mate South Africa, though its grievance is less compelling since it didn't do enough against Uruguay to even enter the conversation about which team would finish third in Group D.
|Position||Team||Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals For||Goals Against||Goal Difference||Points|
- Uruguay must wait for the group stage to conclude to know its round of 16 opponent. It will play the third-placed team from Group B (Germany), or Group E (New Zealand, Vietnam, or Honduras), or Group F (could be any one of Ecuador, Senegal, Saudi Arabia, or the USA).
- Italy is waiting for the winner of Group E - expected to be France, but could be New Zealand.
- Japan will play Venezuela on May 30.