The tournament has been touched by the controversy and political machinations at FIFA’s headquarters in Switzerland, with President Sepp Blatter’s shock resignation late on Tuesday again seizing the world headlines.
Last week’s arrests of a total of 14 FIFA officials and corporate executives on charges of running a criminal enterprise involving more than $150 million in bribes had been a distraction but interest in the tournament was picking up, local organising committee chief executive Dave Beeche told Reuters.
“I guess there is more people talking about football full stop,” Beeche said. “We just have to focus on what we have to do and that’s deliver a great tournament and the football is speaking for itself on the pitch.”
Portugal winger Ivo ensured his side made the round of 16 with two goals in their 4-0 demolition of Qatar in Hamilton.
The result gave the Gulf side a reality check on the hopes of their current under-20 squad blossoming into potential world beaters in seven years’ time.
Qatar have openly said they feel the current under-20 side will provide the bulk of their squad when they host the 2022 World Cup, though their Spanish coach Felix Sanchez said they still needed time to develop.
“Experience won the match,” he told a media conference at Waikato Stadium. “We still have room for progression. Hopefully this experience will better the players.”
Qatar must now beat Senegal, who drew 1-1 with Colombia, to have any hopes of advancing to the round of 16 as one of the best third-placed teams in the tournament.
In Dunedin, Erick Cabaco’s added-time dismissal for a second bookable offence cost Uruguay the opportunity of seizing control of Group D with Mexico’s Kevin Gutierrez converting the free kick to give his side a 2-1 win.
Had Gutierrez not curled the ball past the outstretched hand of Gaston Guruceaga at Otago Regional Stadium, the central Americans would have almost certainly been out of contention for the knockout phases.
Gutierrez’s goal followed Hirving Lozano’s 71st minute strike, though Uruguay’s Mathias Suarez had equalised with seven minutes remaining in normal time.
Mexico have three points after two games, the same as every other team in the group following Serbia’s 2-0 victory over Mali in the late game in Dunedin.
Serbia lead the group on goal difference.
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)