In a thrilling Group D match this evening, France beat Japan 2-1 to secure a dramatic qualification for the knockout phase of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007. A goal down at half-time at the Goyang Stadium this Saturday, the Bleuets staged a stirring comeback to keep their world championship ambitions alive.
From the first whistle, the Europeans, for whom only victory would be good enough, put pressure on Ryotaro Hironaga's goal. Chances were not long in coming, most notably on 19 minutes, when only a post kept Japan on level terms. None the less, the Asian side posed a threat themselves, mainly through their star striker Yoichiro Kakitani. And it was precisely Kakitani who broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time with a spectacular long-range drive that caught goalkeeper Abdoulaye Keita by surprise.
After the break, French coach Francois Blacquart threw caution to the wind and sent on two strikers. The gamble paid ample dividends and within minutes France had turned the game around. First captain Said Mehamha restored parity with an intelligent strike (63'), then Emmanuel Riviere scored what turned out to be the winning goal with a solid header (65'). France can now look forward to taking their campaign into the knockout stages, while Japan must wait until tomorrow's results to see if they will join them there.