AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Serbia beat the United States 6-5 on penalties Sunday, highlighting the value of a strong defensive combination as it reached the Under-20 World Cup semifinals for the first time.
The match needed 18 penalties to decide a victor after it finished 0-0 after extra time, and in the end Serbia advanced after a marathon shootout.
Serbia, which restricted the Americans to two shots on target, has conceded just two goals in more than 500 minutes of World Cup action and is the only European team in the semifinals. Serbia next plays Wednesday against Mali, which upset Germany 4-3 on penalties in Christchurch.
For the United States, the chance to record their best effort since finishing fourth in 1989 was dashed despite the efforts of goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
U.S. coach Tab Ramos said he was satisfied with his team's effort.
"The boys did really well, they fought really hard and they stuck to the game plan," Ramos said
The number of missed opportunities in attack concerned Serbia coach Veljko Paunovic, but he was content with his lineup's overall performance.
"Today we won an important game and defeated a very good team in the United States, who were very well prepared. I think it was a very even game for both teams," Paunovic said. "In the end, I think we were lucky with the penalties."
A fairly equal first half meant there were limited chances for either side, but the best opportunity fell to the United States four minutes from halftime.
An attack down the left hand side saw a low cross to Thomas Thompson in the box, but his effort was inches wide of Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajkovic's far post.
The match opened up in the second half, and after 57 minutes a neat cross found Andrija Zivkovic at the far post, but his first-time volley swept across Steffen's goal.
Steffen was called into action soon after and pulled off a stunning save to deny Zivkovic.
Serbia had a chance early in extra time, but Ivan Saponjic's deflection from a cross by Stanisa Mandic went wide.