Though all the sides in Group B can still reach the Round of 16 at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the two-point advantage held by section leaders Portugal with one match to play gives them license to aim higher than merely scraping through. Friday’s opponents New Zealand, for their part, are dreaming of building on two creditable draws so far - their first ever points at the competition - and extending their historic campaign into the knockout stages.
The changes in personnel and tactical system introduced by coach Ilidio Vale gave Portugal a greater spring in their attacking step against Cameroon, compared to their opener with Uruguay. Key to that were the forward forays of diminutive livewire Caetano and the clever interchanging of positions by attacking midfielders Danilo and Pele, while striker Nelson Oliveira put a wasteful first game behind him with a classy winner.
Top of the standings with four points, they have plenty of reasons to want to keep hold of first place. As well as taking on a theoretically weaker Round of 16 rival, they would also get to stay in the city of Cali, where they have been training for over ten days now and have built up a rapport with the local fans.
Currently in second place with two points, ahead of Uruguay on goals scored, the Kiwis’ pride at picking up another hard-fought draw was tinged with disappointment at not taking all three points against La Celeste. The All Whites looked dangerous in attack, particularly via the pace of Marco Rojas, returning after injury, who had a decisive role in Andrew Bevin’s 57th-minute strike, while Stefan Marinovic was again inspirational between the sticks.
A third consecutive draw may be enough to send the New Zealanders through to the next phase, if other results go their way, though one thing is for sure – they can no longer be considered the group’s least-fancied side.
22 – The number of years Portugal had to wait before recording another victory over an African side at the finals of a FIFA U-20 World Cup. Prior to beating Cameroon, the Iberian side’s last success against a CAF outfit was a 2-0 win over Nigeria in 1989. The next three meetings ended in defeats to Ghana (1993), Mali (1999) and Gambia (2007).
Danilo, Portugal attacking midfielder: “We played well but we could have been a bit more clinical up front. Maybe if our finishing had been better we wouldn’t have suffered so much on the break. But we’ve still got high hopes. We want to win to stay in Cali and we know we’re capable of beating New Zealand.”
Marco Rojas, New Zealand forward: “We’re pleased with what we’ve achieved so far, but we’re also disappointed with the way we drew this game [against Uruguay], because we were close to winning it. But I think that we can already see this as a positive campaign. Now we’ll give it everything we’ve got to try and beat Portugal, who are one of the best teams in Europe.”