Ukraine routs USA in U-20 World Cup; Americans finish second in group
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Viktor Kovalenko scored a hat trick as Ukraine clinched its place in the knockout rounds with a 3-0 win over the United States. While the loss was a setback, the U.S. will also progress after winning its first two matches in Group A.
Host New Zealand posted its first win at a FIFA tournament, beating Myanmar 5-1 in the same group to lift itself onto four points after a first-up draw with Ukraine.
Ukraine and the U.S. played out a tight and scoreless first half before the Europeans took control through Kovalenko in the second half. Moments after he scored his first goal, the U.S. had a chance to equalize, but captain Emerson Hyndman had a penalty saved in the 59th minute, and Kovalenko went on to score two more in the 74th and 79th minutes, becoming the first Ukrainian to net a hat trick in the competition.
Myanmar took an early 1-0 lead through Aung Thu, but New Zealand equalized with its first goal at a FIFA under-20 tournament, by Noah Billingsley in the 40th.
New Zealand lost 4-0 to the U.S. in its previous match, showing a lack of firepower in front of goal, but it found its scoring touch after halftime. From 1-1 it took charge of the match with four goals. New Zealand was third in Group A but remained in the race for the round of 16.
Meanwhile, pre-tournament favorite Argentina faces the prospect of group-stage elimination from the Under-20 World Cup after drawing 0-0 with Austria on Friday.
Argentina took only two points from three matches in Group B after a loss against Ghana and draws against Panama and Austria.
Ghana sealed its place in the round of 16 with a 1-0 win over Panama, scoring the match-winning goal in the 82nd minute through Emmanuel Boateng.
Ghana topped Group B with seven points and will advance along with Austria, which finished second on five points.
Argentina must rely on its record of being among the best four of the six third-placed teams if it is to progress to the knockout rounds.
Argentina entered Friday's match knowing it would likely have to win to preserve its chance of winning the under-20 title for the seventh time. It pressed Austria relentlessly, securing 71 percent of possession and creating 27 shots on goal, but despite its energetic attempts, Argentina couldn't break down the disciplined and well-ordered Austria defense.
"We don't deserve to be out of the World Cup at this stage," Argentina coach Humberto Grondona said. "We expected a lot of ourselves and came to New Zealand with high hopes.
"We gave it our all today but the ball just didn't want to go into the back to the net. Now we've got to hope for a miracle."
Playmaker Angel Correa was a constant threat but even his outstanding range of skills couldn't break down the Austrians.
Ghana seemed lethargic at times against Panama, but began to show real urgency in the last 10 minutes as the three points it anticipated seemed like eluding it.
Substitute Boateng decided the contest with a brilliant solo goal, driving forward strongly, twisting away from the challenge of Francisco Narbon, and curling a superb 20-yard shot just inside the right-hand post.
"Our opponents surprised me," Ghana coach Sellas Tetteh said. "I was in shock simply because at the World Cup you see such different standards of performance, and today Panama played very well."