France coach Patrick Gonfalone made three changes to the side that beat Argentina 3-0 in their opener, and the new-look squad failed to hit the high notes in their 1-1 draw with Japan at the Estadio Universitario in Monterrey. The two sides now share top spot in Group B with one game to go.
The game began at a slow tempo, with neither side able to stamp their authority on the middle of the pitch. The Japanese, as ever, were clever on the ball and moved it well, but they seemed to have a hard time coming to grips with the superior physical strength of the Europeans.
After a few half chances at both ends, the French grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck in the 24th minute, scoring a goal thanks to that very same superior strength and athleticism. Their hulking centre-back Kurt Zouma raced out of defence and up into the attack, laying the ball out wide for Timoue Bakayoko, on for two-goal hero from the first game Yassine Benzia. The winger cut inside from the left and delivered the ball at the edge of the box for Abdallah Yaisien, who controlled well and fired a looping shot over the head of the out-of-position Japanese Kosuke Nakamura goalkeeper, who could do nothing to keep it out.
From there on out the French took control and pressured the East Asians incessantly, but they were unable to add to their lead before the interval. The Japanese, in fact, had the best chance in the dying moments of the period when Ryuga Suzuki nearly curled his shot from the edge of the box just over the crossbar.
The Japanese picked up right where they left off as the second half started, equalising only four minutes after the restart, Hideki Ishige slotting home from the spot after himself being sandwiched between two French defenders in the area. The Asians should have added another goal in the 65th minute, but Ishige could only guide his effort from 12 yards wide of the post after a nice pull-back from Suzuki.
There were good chances for both sides towards the final whistle, but neither could provide the knockout punch and now share top spot in Group B with one game to go. The French will next face off with Jamaica in their final game in Monterrey, while Japan stay put in Morelia and meet Argentina. Both games will be played simultaneously.