CHEONAN, SOUTH KOREA – Ritsu Doan’s brace erased a two-goal deficit as Japan reached the knockout phase of the Under-20 World Cup with a 2-2 Group D draw to Italy on Saturday.
Italy went up by two after just seven minutes behind goals from Riccardo Orsolini and Giuseppe Panico, but Doan struck on either side of halftime as Atsushi Uchiyama’s men qualified for the round of 16 as one of the four best third-place sides in the 24-team field.
The Italians, with four points from three games and ahead of Japan on goal difference, advance as runners-up in the group behind Uruguay, which drew 0-0 with South Africa to finish the first round on seven points.
The top two in each of the six groups qualify automatically for the second round. The group phase ends Sunday with the last 16 starting on Tuesday.
“I can exhale now,” said Doan, who has three goals at this tournament. “We gave up two goals at the start, but we managed to adjust and get back in the game.”
The 18-year-old Gamba Osaka striker said everyone on the team will have to step up after Koki Ogawa was ruled out of the tournament with an injury to his left anterior cruciate ligament.
“We’re going to play for him,” Doan said of the Jubilo Iwata forward, who is expected to be out for the remainder of the season. “We need to turn our sights to the knockout phase now.”
Italy opened the scoring in the third minute, when Orsolini volleyed home a cross from the left by Matteo Pessina.
The Italians only needed another four minutes to double the lead through Panico, who latched on to a Francesco Cassata free kick to hit past goalkeeper Ryosuke Kojima on his first touch.
Japan did well to claw its way back in the game, however, starting with Doan’s first after 22 minutes.
As Mizuki Ichimaru curled the ball into the box, Doan raced through the area, stretching out to the fullest to poke home past keeper Andrea Zaccagno.
In the 50th minute, Doan ran past a swarm of Italian defenders to roll the ball over Zaccagno’s line with his left foot for the crucial equalizer.
Uchiyama swore Japan would be more aggressive in the next phase.
“Our goal for this competition all long has been to play a fourth game,” the manager said. “We made things difficult for ourselves early on, but fought back, playing well as a team.
“It’s do or die from here so we need to be more aggressive and go for the win.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.