Japan edge towards knockouts as Gignac rescues France

Published July 26, 2021
Wataru Endo of Japan in action with Henry Martin of Mexico. - Reuters
Wataru Endo of Japan in action with Henry Martin of Mexico. - Reuters

TOKYO: Hosts Japan moved within touching distance of qualifying for the men’s football knockout stages with a 2-1 win over Mexico at Saitama Stadium on Sunday, while France staged a remarkable comeback to beat South Africa 4-3.

Real Madrid’s highly rated youngster Takefusa Kubo and playmaker Ritsu Doan found the net inside the opening 11 minutes as Japan notched up their second consecutive win to move top of Group ‘A’ with six points.

France, who were hammered 4-1 by Mexico in their Group ‘A’ opener, got their campaign back on track when Teji Savanier netted a stoppage-time winner in their 4-3 victory over South Africa.

Les Bleus trailed 3-2 with 10 minutes left but captain Andre-Pierre Gignac converted an 86th-minute penalty to complete his hat-trick before Savanier’s late goal.

Gignac, one of the three over-age players selected by France along with the under-24 group for the Olympics, now leads the scoring charts in Tokyo with four goals from two matches.

Back-to-back defeats also left South Africa’s hopes of qualifying hanging by a thread, a week after their camp reported multiple Covid-19 cases.

Defending champions Brazil banged in four goals in their opening victory over Germany in Group ‘D’ but their attack failed to fire in a goalless draw against a resolute Ivory Coast side.

The South American giants struggled to control the match after losing midfielder Douglas Luiz to a straight red card for denying Ivory Coast winger Max Gra­del a clear goalscoring opportunity in the 13th minute.

Brazil lead Group ‘D’ on goal difference ahead of their final game of the opening phase against Saudi Arabia, who lost 3-2 to Germany to be eliminated from the competition.

Felix Uduokhai’s 75th-minute goal gave Germany, who had Amos Pieper sent off midway through the second half, a crucial three points.

Spain moved to the top of Group ‘C’ as Mikel Oyarzabal’s late strike — their first goal of the tournament — downed Australia 1-0. Facundo Medina scored to help Argentina to their first three points in the group with a 1-0 win over Egypt.

In Group ‘B’, Honduras came from behind to beat New Zealand 3-2 and South Korea thrashed 10-man Roma­nia 4-0 to leave all four teams on three points.

Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2021

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