Great day for four-star Africa
© Foto-net

THE DAY REPLAYED - Gambia and Congo dramatically beat Portugal and hosts Canada 2-1 and 2-0 respectively to book their places in the second round and boost Africa to a perfect four out of four sides to escape the group stage. Also perfect, Mexico became the only side to win all of their group contests with a 2-1 defeat of New Zealand, while already qualified Chile and Austria settled for a scoreless draw in the day's other match.

The Round of 16 schedule is now set, with anxiously waiting Costa Rica missing out on a spot at the death thanks to the two African victories. On "Soccer Day" in the Great White North, Canada, the only nation not to score in these finals, also became the first hosts to be eliminated at the U-20 group stage since Malaysia in 1997.

Portugal feel the sting
Earlier in the day, the Baby Scorpions of Gambia surprised a significantly changed but favoured Portuguese side and their 30,000 supporters in Montreal's Olympic Stadium despite playing for the last half hour with 10 men. It all seemed so unlikely in the opening stages of the match when Congo-born defensive midfielder Feliciano Condesso headed the Iberians ahead past the wildly - and foolishly - charging Gambian goalkeeper in the 20th minute.

However, the Africans looked consistently dangerous going forward and they evened the match just before the break amid howls of Portuguese displeasure as Ous Jallow calmly side-footed a penalty past the right-guessing goalkeeper. With both sides guaranteed of advancement with a draw, one could be forgiven for thinking the second half might be devoid of action, but it was not to be as Ken Jammeh's sending off for an unruly studs-up challenge in the 59th minute ended Andre Maques' match and possibly tournament.

Seemingly sparked by the sending off, short-handed Gambia almost went ahead just moments later when Sainey Nyassi pulled a shot wide with only the goalkeeper to beat. And, they did just that in the 68th minute when substitute Abdoulie Mansally curled in a free kick from the right side that missed everyone's head and snuck in at the far post. Both teams will now head to Edmonton, where Gambia meet Austria on 11 July, while Portugal face Chile the next day.

Across the country in Edmonton, Mexico rested six regulars including starlet Giovanni Dos Santos and coasted to victory behind goals on either side of half-time from Christian Bermudez and Osmar Mares. Kept in the match by goalkeeper Jacob Spoonley in the first half, the Kiwis fought bravely till the end of a better second period and got some consolation just before time with their first goal of Canada 2007 from Jack Pelter. However, the Oceania representatives go home pointless, while El Tri finish atop Group C and will meet Congo in the Round of 16 on 12 July in Montreal.

Rain on Canada's parade
Knowing they needed a three goal victory over Congo to advance from Group A, the Canadians looked the best they have at this event, pushing early and often into the box of the African champions. But, as their desperate supporters cheered on every attack in Edmonton's pouring rain, the Canucks could not find a way through.

On the other side, Congo knew they needed a win to move on, and they got the all-important opening goal just before the half hour mark when Gracia Ikouma deftly headed down a cross to Ermejea Ngakosso, who volleyed it in off his knee. The small but vocal Congolese contingent celebrated wildly, and they doubled their pleasure as Gracia Ikouma beat two defenders and finished well on the hour mark.

Canada's sad day wasn't done however as Canuck goalkeeper Asmir Begovic was sent off in the 73rd minute for handling the ball well outside of his area. Field player Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault filled in admirably, but the Canucks become the first host team in the 30 year history of the U-20s not to score a goal in the tournament, and they will pack their bags wondering how it all went so wrong. The cool Congolese live to fight on another day, which they will do against the impressive Mexicans.

With Chile and Austria already assured of advancement, the two were happy to nullify each other in Toronto. Tired but spurred on by a sizeable supporters contingent, Chile controlled possession and held the ball skilfully against Austria, who had the better of the chances. The Chileans will rest up for their Second Round meeting with the Portuguese, while the Austrians - the first team from the Alpine nation to advance to the second stage of a FIFA event since the 1982 FIFA World Cup - will face the thrilled Gambians.