Unlucky losers pay the penalty

THE DAY REPLAYED – Following a tense and dramatic day that saw three penalty shootouts, Brazil, Mali, Serbia and Senegal won their way through to the semi-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015.

Though the goalless scoreline might suggest otherwise, Brazil and Portugal played out an entertaining game at Waikato Stadium, where chances were not in short supply. A combination of the woodwork, fine goalkeeping and last-ditch defending nevertheless took the tie to penalties, with A Verdeamarela winning the day as Hamilton bade a fond and action-packed farewell to the competition.

There was more penalty drama when Mali took on Germany, and not just at the end of extra-time. The Germans were one goal to the good when they were awarded a second-half penalty that could have taken the match out of Mali’s reach. Aiglons’ keeper Djigui Diarra guessed Hany Mukhtar’s intentions, however, keeping his side in the hunt. Their equaliser duly came and when the tie went to penalties, Diarra looked on as two German takers shot wide to gift the Africans a semi-final slot.

After seeing off Hungary in extra-time in the last round, Serbia had to take the long road once more in their quarter-final tie against USA, with two hours of goalless football being followed by an 18-kick shootout featuring seven misses in all. Fortunately for the Serbians, they were responsible for only three of them.

Senegal were the only one of the day’s winners to get the job done in normal time. Mamadou Thiam was the man who settled their meeting with Uzbekistan, getting on the end of a fine team move to give his team a place in the last four and, in the context of the day’s other events, a relatively early shower.

Results Brazil 0-0 Portugal (PSO 3-1) Mali 1-1 Germany (PSO 4-3) USA 0-0 Serbia (PSO 5-6) Uzbekistan 0-1 Senegal

Goal of the day*Mali-Germany 0-1, Julian Brandt (38)*Having previously come thick and fast at New Zealand 2015, the goals suddenly dried up on Sunday, though there could be no doubting the quality of Germany’s solitary strike of the day, which came when Mukhtar’s free-kick was kept out by Mali’s defensive wall and a bobbling ball eventually found its way to Julian Brandt. Arcing his body into position, the German youngster flashed a fine right-footed half volley into the back of the net to give his side the lead.

Memorable moments*Friends and rivals *Rony Lopes and Andreas Pereira might live in the same city, speak the same language and be the best of friends, but they are also rivals when it comes to playing the game they love. The city in question is Manchester, where the Portuguese Lopes runs out for City and the Brazilian Pereira does likewise for United. On Sunday that rivalry extended to the international stage, with Pereira coming on for Brazil for the second half of their encounter with Portugal and coming face to face with best buddy Lopes.

Stendera in the wars Germany coach Frank Wormuth has no doubt about the importance of playmaker Marc Stendera to his side: “He’s our driving force, the player we need to make us tick.” The statistics back up that glowing description. Stendera went into the quarter-finals with a record of four goals and three assists, though his preparations for the meeting with Mali were hampered by a very sore throat. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder could have been forgiven for thinking his troubles were over when he shook off his ailment and made the starting XI. Sadly for him, they were not. Only ten minutes had elapsed when he was received a heavy blow to the head from the ball, causing him to have to leave the field for good.

Slapstick comedy Goals may have been in short supply in Auckland, but the rain certainly was not, though the wet conditions failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the Serbia fans cheering their side on against USA, all with the aid of drums and an inexhaustible supply of chants. There were gales of laughter at the stadium too, when Serbia midfielder Nemanja Maksimovic lost his footing on the slippery surface and inadvertently took out one of the referee’s assistants on the touchline, prompting much mirth among the fans.

The stat 6 - the number of penalties that have been missed at New Zealand 2015 so far, the highest in FIFA U-20 World Cup history. Three of those spot-kicks have been saved and the other three all fired wide of the post or over the bar.

The words“I watched a lot of videos of them taking penalties and he (Raphael Guzzo) hit three of them down the middle. I shaped to move, but I knew all along that I had to stay where I was,” Jean, Brazil goalkeeper.

Next matchdayWednesday 17 June (all times local)

Semi-finals Brazil-Senegal* *(16.00, Christchurch) Serbia-Mali (19.30, Auckland)