Istambul, Jun 25 : Spain became the first team to advance to the knockout stages of the Under-20 World Cup, earning a lackluster but welcome 1-0 victory over Ghana on Monday.
The United States boosted its chances of reaching the final 16 with a hard-fought 1-1 draw with France after a late strike by Daniel Cuevas.
Spain, the tournament favorite, was a shadow of the team that routed the Americans 4-1. It rarely threatened and often appeared unsettled by Ghana's pressing style.
The only real chance for Spain came in the 13th minute when Denis Suarez took a long ball and sent a pass to an unmarked Jese who tapped it in.Ghana had the better chances in the second period but struggled to finish.
A header from Frank Acheapong went wide in the 55th and then Yiadome Boakye spun around and fired his shot just over the goal three minutes later.
Ghana's Ebenezer Assifuah was taken down in the area in injury time by defender Israel Puerto but no penalty was called.
"We played a strong physical team and we had a lot of chances," Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said."We scored one goal and dominated the second half. We are very happy to be in the second round."
Ghana's Sellas Tetteh praised his players' "brave" effort and blamed the poor finish on his side's inexperience.It now must beat the United States Thursday in its final group match for any chance of advancing.
"You never call it over until it's over," Tetteh said. "That is the game of football. There is nothing that is impossible. We will give it our final shot."
In the earlier match, France looked on pace to win and advance after Auxerre striker Yaya Sanogo scored his second goal of the tournament from a penalty kick in the 48th minute. It came after Dimitri Foulquier was sideswiped by America's Javan Torre in the area.
The United States had few chances and failed to convert -- the worst when Luis Gil's penalty was easily saved in the 65th. But the Americans grew in confidence toward the end and it paid off in the 85th. Gil made up for his miss, curving a free kick into the area that Cuevas pounced on and scored.
"I feel like they were confused. They couldn't get the ball out and luckily it took a bounce my way and I got to push it in," Cuevas said.The late goal showed the character of the American team, he said."Our team is very united and we are always together and pushing forward," Cuevas said. "If things don't go our way, we keep trying and keep trying until they do. Luckily we got the tie."
Coach Tab Ramos admitted he was a "little disappointed" with the performance from the Americans early on but happy to come away with a draw."My disappointment is that in a game like today we should have gotten all three points," Ramos said. "At the end of the day, it was great courage, effort by our team."
The United States now sits third, three behind France for the second automatic qualifying spot. It is unlikely to overtake France due to goal difference but still has a strong shot at one of the four spots for third-placed teams.
France, which could have advanced with a win, failed to repeat the form that beat Ghana 3-1 in its opener.
"I don't think we had a great control of the game tonight," France coach Pierre Mankowski said. "It feels a bit strange because the U.S. team was hardly dangerous. But they had situations they should have never had. We conceded a penalty and a free-kick, which led to their goal."
France will be without captain Paul Pogba for their final group match against Spain after a second yellow card in two matches.
"The boys were really disappointed at the end of the game," Mankowski said. "Playing without Pogba for the last crucial game against Spain is something we have to figure out tomorrow when things will be quieter."
In the other early match in Group B, Nigeria got its campaign on track with a 3-0 win over newcomer Cuba.Aminu Umar scored twice in four minutes and captain Abdul Ajagun got his third of the tournament as the African team easily beat Cuba.
Nigeria opened the scoring when Olarenwaju Kayodefed fed Umar for the easy tap-in with 19 minutes gone. Four minutes later, Abdullahi Shehu drilled a cross which Umar flicked between his legs for the goal.
The Nigerians completed the route in the 67th when Kingsley Madu's cross was headed home by Ajagun.South Korea twice came from behind to draw with Portugal 2-2 in the other Group B match. With the draw, South Korea and Portugal are level on four points with Nigeria a point behind in third.
Portugal's Aladje opened the scoring with a header before Ryu Seung-Woo drew the Koreans level just before halftime. Sporting Lisbon's Armindo "Bruma" got his third goal of the tournament in the 60th before Kim Hyun drew the Koreans level again in the 76th.