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Team USA punched its ticket to the Hong Kong quarterfinals Saturday, beating Argentina 31-17 in its Pool D finale. The win improved the Eagles' two-day record to 2-0-1, following a blowout win over Wales and a draw against France. Awaiting them in the knockouts at 11:42 p.m. ET is New Zealand, which finished second in its pool to Fiji.
The opening kickoff was sloppily taken, with multiple people bobbling the ball, but eventually it was the Eagles scooping it up. It found its way into Perry Baker's hands, and though he was given little space to work with, he stepped one overeager defender and raced past the rest, sliding the ball to his fingertips a la Waisale Serevi, while he jogged over the line and claimed the lead for the USA.
Argentina put some phases together on their first possession, but the pass that looked to put the Pumas away was deemed forward. The Eagles won the scrum cleanly, and the set-piece play saw scrumhalf Maka Unufe run a give-and-go, drawing the attention of the defense. Ben Pinkelman then threw a long cutout pass over the defense to Danny Barrett, who scored the rare try without being touched, using a tricky juke to beat the last defender.
Rodrigo Etchart got Argentina on the board seconds later. Argentina won the kickoff without much fuss, and Etchart simply carved through the not-yet-formed American defense. The try was dotted down at a tough angle, and the conversion was missed – 12-5.
Barrett would pound over another try before the halftime hooter. Martin Iosefo did most of the work, barreling over one Argentine and committing two more on a blistering run. The ball was spun wide to Barrett on the other wing, and he got to bash one tackler this time, right on the try line. The conversion was successful, putting the Americans up 19-5 at intermission.
The big man picked up a couple of more victims seconds into the second half. Matai Leuta elevated to haul in the opening kickoff, Niua floated a long pass to Barrett on the wing, and he thumped two Argentines right on the line as he went over for the hat-trick. The kick was no good, making the difference 19 with just over five minutes to play.
With a penalty allowing for an attacking lineout, Mike Friday subbed in Kevon Williams at halfback and Carlin Isles on the wing, sliding Iosefo to flyhalf. The deadly speed out wide might have had an impact without even seeing the ball, as on the first play, Iosefo simply took the out pass, tucked and ran through the middle of the worried defense for a score. With the kick, the Eagles led 31-5.
Argentina scored with two minutes left, with a series of dribbling kicks being scooped up along the way. The Argentines doubled up seconds later with another successful grubber and gather. The flurry made it 31-17 to the Eagles with just over a minute to go. But it was too little, too late.