CARIACICA, Brazil – The U.S. Under-17 men’s national team earned an important point in Group D at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup behind a hard-fought scoreless draw against Japan before 3,878 fans at Estádio Kléber Andrade Wednesday night.
The USA (0-1-1, 1 point) sits in third place in Group D after two match days, trailing second-place Japan (1-0-1, 4) and group-leaders Senegal (2-0-0, 6), but ahead of its final group stage opponent, the Netherlands (0-2-0, 0).
The point earned against Japan was crucial because a win in its final Group D game would put the USA in good position to advance to the knockout round with four points. In 21 previous FIFA tournaments with this format, 101 teams finished the group stage with four points, and 98 advanced (97 percent). Sixty-six teams finished with three points, and 31 advanced (47 percent).
The USA heads to Estádio da Serrinha in Goiania for the conclusion of group play against the Netherlands Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (FS2 and UNIVERSO).
The U.S. had its chances, but not being able to find the back of the net put the spotlight on 6-8 goalkeeper Chituru Odunze, who came up huge for the Americans with four saves, three of which came late in the second half.
After scoring the USA’s opening goal of the tournament in the first game against Senegal from a header, Gianluca Busio nearly did the same against Japan. However, the speedy forward put an early header over the bar in the eighth minute before later sending a free kick just over the crossbar.
Minutes into the second half, U.S. forward Ricardo Pepi broke through on goal and put home a rebound but was rightly whistled offside. In the 55th minute, he was withdrawn for Gio Reyna, who nearly caught Japan goalkeeper Zion Suzuki cheating off his line when he put a 30-yard free kick just over the bar.
Shortly thereafter, Japan introduced it most dangerous player, Jun Nishikawa, who proved a handful but couldn’t find his finishing touch. His partner in attack, Yamato Wakatsuki, was more precise with his shots but repeatedly found himself thwarted by the acrobatics of Odunze in the U.S. goal.
Reyna bulled his way to a final goal-scoring opportunity for the U.S. in the 85th minute with a full field run but saw his close-range effort saved by Suzuki.