THE DAY REPLAYED - Argentina slipped past Korea DPR by a slim 1-0 on Friday while the USA made history by earning only their second-ever FIFA world finals' win over perennial favourites Brazil on a night that saw Poland, the Czech Republic and even Austria (on their rest day) qualify for the knockout stages.
On paper, holders Argentina did exactly what was expected of them in their final Group E match in Ottawa - beating debutant North Korea to finish top of the pile. However, the South American giants and the most-accomplished nation at U-20 level were made to suffer along the way.
Their star performer and the inheritor of Maradona's heavy number ten shirt, Sergio 'Kun' Aguero of Atletico Madrid, stepped up to set the quick-passing upstart Asians straight with a sublime free kick on 35 minutes to tie him on three with the American trio of Freddy Adu, Danny Szetela and Josmer Altidore in the top-scorer hunt. He nearly repeated the dose minutes later, but this time his set piece from the other side of the box could only splatter against the woodwork.
With their hopes of sealing second place and automatic qualification slipping away, the brave Koreans - who had a goal disallowed in the first half - threw everything forward in the dying minutes and saw several good chances to earn their third draw in three matches go begging. In the end, it was the superior professionalism of the South Americans and a moment of unparalleled genius that separated the two sides and banished any romantic hopes of a major upset. The men from Pyongyang can take comfort in the fact that they are still alive with a slim chance of a place in the knockout stages, but they will need some results to go their way elsewhere.
Over in Montreal, the Czechs beat Panama 2-1 to steal in and guarantee second spot in the Group. CONCACAF's Canaleros did well to earn their first point at a world finals here in Canada and can now take it home with them.
Although the table-topping Argentines looked to struggle at times in this first round, it is only because expectations are so high when it comes to the five-time champions. Any other team at these finals (archrivals Brazil chief among them) would be happy with seven points, undefeated status, seven goals scored and zero conceded in three matches.
Austria - not in action until Sunday - will be thanking the Argentines as the day's result sees them through from Group A and assured of spot in the Round of Sixteen as at least one of the best third-place teams.
D is for drama
Group D also drew to a close with a bang in Ottawa on Friday as USA captain Freddy Adu put himself in line for a run at the adidas golden ball as tournament top player with a second master-class in the space of three days. Setting up both of Josmer Altidore's goals in a heart-stopping, back-and-forth victory, the Americans managed to take hold of top spot in the group despite a slow start to the competition.
Brazil, who pushed the Americans all the way, will now have to wait and bite their fingernails in unfamiliar third place, hoping results go their way over the next few days.
Poland, who also beat Brazil in their first match, slipped into second place in Group D with a 1-1 draw with Korea Republic, who are now officially eliminated despite playing some of the quickest and most stylish football at these finals.
The USA will now play the third-place finisher from either Group B, E or F in the Round of Sixteen, while the Czechs will take on the winner of Group F (Nigeria or Japan) and Argentina will meet Poland.