The final round of games in Groups E and F presented opportunities for virtually all the Hyundai Young Player Award contenders in the eight teams on show, though none of them were able to make as much of an impression on proceedings as they would have liked. The rising stars on duty did at least gain some valuable experience, with most of their teams progressing to the knockout stages.
The first candidate in action was Nigeria’s impressive full-back Kenneth Omeruo, an ever-present in the Super Eagles’ campaign to date. The No22 had a tough assignment in trying to keep Argentina’s much-vaunted attack at bay while also trying to get forward to support his team-mates. Despite his side’s 3-2 defeat, the promising Omeruo can be content with his efforts.
At the same time Iran were taking on Bosnia and Herzegovina in a game they needed to win to advance. Team Melli were trailing 2-0 when Carlos Queiroz decided to throw Alireza Jahan Bakhsh into the fray in a bid to turn the game around. The fledgling forward gave his all, but could do nothing to prevent his team from going down to a 3-1 defeat to the Bosnians, for whom full-back Sead Kolanisac put in a fine performance, one he almost capped with a goal.
Getting their chance in the evening games were France’s exciting clutch of prodigies, with full-back Lucas Digne and midfielder Paul Pogba both playing the full 90 minutes against Ecuador. The duo dispatched their duties admirably enough, though the Juventus man was guilty of some wayward finishing. Centre-half Raphael Varane also saw some action, coming on as a second-half substitute.
The group phase comes to a conclusion tomorrow and will spell the end for several players’ hopes of taking the award. There will be no shortage of young talent on display in the match between Germany and USA, with the Americans potentially fielding DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks and Julian Green, and the Germans Julian Draxler and Matthias Ginter, though all five will start on the bench, as will Portugal youngster Rafa in the decisive clash with Ghana.
Taking their turn in the evening games are Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku and Divock Origi, who will be fighting for a place in the Red Devils attack against Korea Republic, a game in which team-mate Adnan Januzaj will also be hoping to get his chance. In the other match in Group H, Nabil Bentaleb will be out to maintain his excellent form when Algeria take on Russia.