Cote d’Ivoire drew in Minos with Olympic champions Brazil 0-0, while André-Pierre Gignac’s hat-trick carried France to a 4-3 victory over South Africa on Sunday.
Brazil, who won gold for the first time five years ago at home in Rio, could have been on the brink of qualifying for the knockout stage in Yokohama, but a recalcitrant Ivory Coast rejected it.
It could have been worse, as he had to play for over an hour with ten men after Aston Villa midfielder Douglas Luiz’s red card in the 13th minute for bringing down Joseph Dow when he was scoring.
The dismissal of Eboue Kouassi increased the numbers, but the Ivorians held on to the fact that former Barcelona player Malcom missed a late chance for South America.
Brazil leads Group D with a goal difference before its final match of the opening stage against Saudi Arabia, who lost 3-2 to Germany to get out of the tournament.
Felix Udokhai’s 75th-minute goal awarded Germany, who had sent off Amos Bieber midway through the second half, with three decisive points.
The Germans, who are looking to win men’s gold for the first time as a unified country, will reach the next round with a victory over Ivory Coast in three days.
France would have stared at an early exit due to their stumble against South Africa, but veteran striker Gignac saved the French national team in a thrilling match in Saitama.
The first set came to life after a goalless first half, as South African midfielder Luther Singh missed a penalty, as Kobamelo Kudisang put the underdog in front eight minutes into the second half.
The 35-year-old Gignac, captain of France’s national team in Japan, equalized soon after, but Evidence McGuba restored South Africa’s poor lead in the 72nd minute.
Former Marseille star Gignac, who played for the French first team in 2016, tied the tie again.
Tiboho Mokoena thought he had won the match just nine minutes ago to play it with a superb shot that hit the crossbar, but Gignac scored his fourth goal of the tournament with a penalty five minutes later.
France is about to return by plane
There was still plenty of time for France to snatch the winning goal, as Gignac found Tigi Savagnier to dig in with a low kick in the second minute of overtime.
“After every goal for South Africa, it felt like we were getting back on the plane,” said Gignac, who has played for Mexican club Tigres since 2015.
“We saw the joy after Tigi’s goal and gave ourselves the final against Japan. With a heart we can do well. We don’t want to go back to France.”
South Africa, which was hit by two players who tested positive for COVID-19 in the Olympic Village before the tournament began, will need to beat Mexico in its final group match and hope Japan will overtake France to have any chance of reaching the last eight.
The host country held out for its second successive victory with a 2-1 victory over Mexico, who are second above France on goal difference.
Real Madrid youngsters Takefusa Kubo and Ritsu Duan put them in control in the first 11 minutes and proved to be enough despite Roberto Alvarado halving the difference.
Spain climbed to the top of Group C as Mikel Oyarzabal netted his late goal – his first goal in the tournament – over Australia 1-0. Argentina beat Egypt 1-0.
In the second set, Honduras came from behind to defeat New Zealand 3-2 and South Korea crushed 10-man Romania 4-0 to leave the four teams with three points.