THE DAY REPLAYED - Nigeria became the first side to reach the Round of 16 with nine points to their name, as Syria and Argentina joined the Golden Eaglets, Peru, Costa Rica, England, Brazil and Tunisia in sealing a place in the knockout phase. Howewer, the headline story of an intriguing day's action unfolded in Goyang City, where France produced a thrilling second half comeback to beat Japan to victory and, crucially, second spot in Group D.
The Japanese now face a nervous wait to see if they will accompany Nigeria and France into the next round. As things stand, they are the third-best placed of the third-placed teams from the four concluded pools, but with Groups E and F to reach their climaxes tomorrow, Hiroshi Jofuku's charges could yet miss out on one of the four coveted births.
Although Japanese supporters will have been disappointed that Yoichiro Kakitani's wonderful goal on the stroke of half-time was insufficient to see their side to take anything from the game, they will be thankful not to have lost by a greater margin. The reason for this was Ryotaro Hironaga, who produced some superb saves to restrict France to a mere two goals. Critically, his efforts kept Japan ahead of Korea Republic, who finished third in Group A, on the basis of goals scored.
Les Bleuets fans must have feared it was not going to be their day when, trailing 1-0, another chance went begging in the 65th minute. However, after 16 shots went unrewarded, Said Mehamha finally found the target in the 68th minute, before Emmanuel Riviere added another in quick succession to seal a 2-1 win.
Century up as Nigeria storm through
The rain poured down as a well-organised Syrian side banked one of the four best third-placed tickets to the Round of 16. Goals in either half from Haani Al Taiar and Ahmad Alsalih claimed the Asians a 2-0 win over fellow tournament newcomers Honduras, who bowed out with their heads held high after a spirited, flair-filled display at the Jeju FIFA World Cup Stadium.
The weather had cleared up by the time Nigeria and Haiti took to the turf in Jeju, and the African champions radiated under the shining sun. It took Macauley Chrisantus just five minutes to score the 100th goal of the tournament, and in doing so he became the first player to score in all three group games.
An even more impressive statistic was recorded by Golden Eaglets, who became the only side to progress with a maximum nine points in the pocket, a feat Tunisia will have the opportunity to repeat when they face Tajikistan tomorrow. Having only been afforded three minutes' playing time before he lined up against Haiti, a consequence of Yemi Tella resting some of his regular starters, Sheriff Isa made his mark with a brace inside three minutes before half-time, which is sure to give the Nigeria coach a selection headache ahead of their Round of 16 game.
Spain also rung the changes, and the incoming Dani Aquino's point-grabbing equaliser for Spain against Argentina will have provoked mixed reactions among his relatives. His father, Daniel Toribio Aquino, represented the Albiceleste during their 1990 FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaign and his grandparents live in the Argentinian town of Chajari, where the Murcia youngster enjoys frequent holidays.
Aquino's strike in Gwangyang ensured Spain advanced as Group D winners, where they will meet one of the best third-placed teams, leaving Argentina to take on Group A runners-up Costa Rica. The Ticos will have to find a way to minimise Eduardo Salvio's output. Miguel Angel Tojo's trusted No7 covered every inch of the Soccer Only Field against Spain, organising attacks and linking up well with Pablo Rolon and Carlos Benitez, who netted the South Americans' goal.
At the end of matchday eight, there was also joy for the inactive Korea DPR, Colombia and Germany whose haul of four points will be enough to see them through to the last 16.