Free-kick feast as Portugal, Serbia top groups

THE DAY REPLAYED –The penultimate round of group stage matches at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015 in New Zealand was tipped to be a day of frantic calculations in determining which teams would progress, and it did not disappoint. Portugal won Group C after maintaining their 100 per cent record to seal their place in the Round of 16, where they are joined by a rejuvenated Serbia side that recovered from losing their opening game to win twice and top Group D. Colombia also advanced to the knockout rounds as group runners-up behind Portugal on an emotionally-charged day filled with hope, worry and despair.

In Group D, a 1-1 draw between Mali and Uruguay left both teams with an identical points and goals record, meaning a drawing of lots was required to decide who would secure second place and the accompanying berth in the last 16. In the end it was the South Americans who finished as runners up, but third place was enough for Mali to join them in the Round of 16.

Today’s results also mean that hosts New Zealand remain in the tournament as one of the four best third-placed finishers, as both Argentina and debutants Senegal have worse records. All is not yet lost for the latter, however, as they could still book a ticket to the last 16 if results go their way in the final round of matches in Groups E and F on Sunday. Results Group C Colombia 1-3 Portugal Senegal 2-1 Qatar

Group D Mali 1-1 Uruguay Serbia 2-0 Mexico

Goal of the day*Senegal 1-1 Qatar, Alhassane Sylla (76’) *After Qatar defender Salem Al Hajri just managed to nick the ball off Senegal’s Malick Niang, who had darted into the box, it appeared the Africans had squandered their next chance to equalise. However, despite having plenty of time to hit the ball clear, Al Hajri mis-kicked his effort straight to Sylla, who controlled it with his chest and delicately lobbed it over goalkeeper Youssof Hassan with the outside of his boot from 12 yards. It was an astonishing goal, particularly as not many players are blessed with the vision or ability to execute such skill in a split second. Memorable moments*Quick out of the blocks *For a coach there is nothing better than having a player who rises to the occasion, and in Nuno Santos, Portugal tactician Helio Sousa has exactly that. In the starting line-up for the first time against Colombia in Dunedin, Santos was directly involved in a goal for a third consecutive match after his thundering free-kick from the edge of the penalty area put his side in front after just three minutes. The Benfica attacker got a goal and an assist just moments after coming off the bench late on in Portugal’s opening game, and also set up another after appearing as a substitute in their second match. It would be no exaggeration to say he has taken the tournament by storm.

  • True to his word *Senegal coach Joseph Koto will be equally proud of a talented striker of his own. After scoring the winning goal against Qatar in Hamilton, Moussa Kone sprinted towards the touchline and stood directly in front of Koto, staring at him with a serious expression on his face before hugging him warmly. Speaking to the match-winner after the final whistle, FIFA.comdiscovered the reasons behind his unusual celebration. Kone explained that before kick-off he had told his coach not to worry, as he would ensure the team won the game. Kone kept his word and now Senegal can only wait in hope of reaching the last 16 as one of the best four third-placed finishers.

    Free-kicks galore Spectacular free-kicks appear to be the signature feature of this World Cup, with five scored so far. Mexico know all about them, having secured a late 2-1 victory over Uruguay in their second game with a wonderful curling effort from Kevin Gutierrez, before being on the receiving end of a similar strike from Serbia’s Andrija Zivkovic today. Curiously, both of those free-kicks were scored in the same goal in Dunedin. Given the other eye-catching set-pieces from Portugal’s Santos, Ukraine’s Viktor Kovalenko and Germany’s Marc Stendera, it would seem free-kick practice is a regular occurrence on the training pitches in New Zealand.

    The stat9 – Title favourites Portugal are in electric from at present and have now extended their unbeaten run in group fixtures at this tournament to nine. Furthermore, the 1989 and 1991 winners simultaneously ended Colombia’s own run of six undefeated games in regular time.

    The words“It’s important to me to congratulate Qatar today. They were a really difficult opponent and played good football. There was a lot of mutual respect between the teams out on the pitch. We’re all brothers in this world.” Joseph Koto, Senegal coach.

    Next matchdaySunday 7 June 2015

    Group E Brazil – Korea DPR (17.00, Christchurch) Hungary – Nigeria (17.00, New Plymouth)

    Group F Honduras – Germany (14.00, Christchurch) Fiji – Uzbekistan (14.00, Whangarei)

    (All times given are local)