FIFA U-17 World Cup: Japan draw 1-1 with New Caledonia, qualify for Round of 16 | fifa-u17-world-cup-2017 | Hindustan Times
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FIFA U-17 World Cup: Japan draw 1-1 with New Caledonia, qualify for Round of 16

Japan drew 1-1 with New Caledonia in their last league encounter at the FIFA U-17 World Cup but they sealed a spot in the Round of 16.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 14, 2017 20:34 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Japan’s last league game in the FIFA U-17 World Cup ended in a 1-1 draw with New Caledonia but they secured qualification to the Round of 16.
Japan’s last league game in the FIFA U-17 World Cup ended in a 1-1 draw with New Caledonia but they secured qualification to the Round of 16.(AP)

The most famous Nakamura in football hasn’t set foot on the Salt Lake stadium but one who did helped Japan enter the pre-quarter final which they will play here next Tuesday as the second-placed team from group E. En route, Kieto Nakamura got his fourth goal as the group stage of the under-17 World Cup ended on Saturday with a 1-1 draw against New Caledonia.

That was expected. What was not was New Caledonia ending their first under-17 World Cup with a point. Skipper Jekob Jeno ensured the 1-1 draw with a header following a well-worked corner-kick drill in the 83rd minute.

Even Takefusa Kubo, who came on the 73rd minute, couldn’t do anything about the scoreline. As the competition’s first woman referee Esther Staubli blew the final whistle, delirium and despair resided on either side on the Salt Lake stadium pitch. New Caledonia players somersaulted, the Japanese slouched.

“The World Cup was kind of scary to start with and the players got distracted by the big stage. But today, we had decided we would look our opponents in the eye …This point is huge for our football,” said Dominique Wacalie, the New Caledonia coach.

When Japan played a World Cup qualifier here in 2004, Shunsuke Nakamura wasn’t part of the squad. Japan won at a canter after India’s resistance broke in first-half stoppage time. Around the same time on Saturday, New Caledonia looked like they were facing a firing squad. So what if Japan had rested nine regulars. Twice the framework denied Japan from bolstering the lead Nakamura had given in the seventh minute. There was also a goalline save in the 35th minute.

When Theo Bosshard had only goalie Togo Umeda to beat, the tiny country with twice the population of the turnout that once watched Bhaichung Bhutia take apart Mohun Bagan in a Kolkata derby at this stadium in 1997 could have had another goal but he ballooned over. His replacement Vita Longue did better with a grounder which Umeda palmed for a corner-kick. From the ensuing set-piece, Jeno scored.

Nakamura scored after beating two players and before a third could stop the shot which beat Gaizka Ipeze, the third goalie New Caledonia used in as many games. But in the second half, Japan looked like they were playing with the handbrake on.

“In two-and-a-half years, I haven’t seen them play like this. They were timid, inactive and as if they had a load on their backs,” said Japan coach Yoshiro Moriyama.

For a team that shipped 13 goals in three games, Ipeze had the best record among the trio. His effort at denying Toichi Suzuki’s attempt to chip from a distance perhaps woke up the 44,000 plus crowd that had gone quiet. Agter Jeno’s goal though allowed New Caledonia to add to the noise.