AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Happy faces were hard to find among Rugby World Cup teams on Tuesday.
Italy laboured to a 27-10 win over the United States from 20-10 at halftime in Nelson, and Japan conceded a 23-23 draw with Canada in Napier, blowing a chance in its last pool match to end a Cup-record 17-match winless streak since 1991.
Canada scored eight points in the last five minutes to salvage the draw with Japan, but dropped a chance to place some real pressure on a chaotic French side for a quarterfinals berth.
One of France's veterans shot down rumours of a player revolt against testy coach Marc Lievremont, while Argentina and Australia lost key players for the rest of the tournament to leg injuries.
History-chasing Italy needed a win and bonus point against the U.S. to ensure the clash with Ireland this Sunday will be a playoff for the quarterfinals. Italy can make the last eight for the first time with a win, while Ireland can advance with at least a draw.
The Italians made victory on Tuesday hard on themselves in a dour display. They notched three tries by halftime and looked good. But in the second half Italy bombed numerous try-scoring chances in the face of a tenacious Eagles defence.
Only while American flanker Louis Stanfill was in the sin-bin did the Italians score the fourth try they badly wanted, when the brave but short-handed Eagles scrum conceded a penalty try.
"We needed five points, it doesn't matter how we got it," Italy prop Martin Castrogiovanni said.
Japan, a competitor at every World Cup but a winner of only one match, looked set to end the winless streak when it led Canada 23-15 with five minutes to go before a sellout crowd.
Then Canada flyhalf Ander Monro scored a try, missed the conversion, but landed a more difficult penalty goal in the 79th minute to repeat their draw in the 2007 Cup.
"This is no good; we drew with them last time," said Japan's Hirotoki Onozawa, playing in his third Cup. "It kills me that we weren't able to win. I had told myself not to get too emotional, but I did. I'm just so sorry for all the fans who have backed us."
Canada No. 8 Aaron Carpenter was also disappointed without.
"Japan seems to be a bogey team when it comes down to the last five minutes," he said.
Still, Canada has a temporary hold on third place in Pool A. Third place gives them an automatic spot in the 2015 World Cup. Tonga can overtake them with at least two points from France on Saturday in Wellington, but that's a tall order. Canada will also expect no more points when it faces New Zealand, also in Wellington, the next day.
On Wednesday, old rivals Romania and Georgia meet in Palmerston North in the one match both teams targeted as winnable in Pool B. Romania leads their history of head-to-heads but Georgia has won four of the past five clashes.
"We know each other's strengths and weaknesses. It will be a war," said Romania fullback Iulian Dumitras.
France lock Lionel Nallet fronted up at his team announcement to reject rumours of player unrest. Lievremont has been under severe pressure for the past week for his selections, and criticized the French media on Monday for creating a "detestable atmosphere" at news conferences.
"I have been hearing stories, rumours about little uprisings by the players and a lot of nonsense like that," Nallet said. "At the moment there is a very good atmosphere in our squad and we are all united with each other."
Nallet was retained in the side to play Tonga, along with Morgan Parra's controversial retention at flyhalf.
Argentina suffered a major blow when vice captain and flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was ruled out of the rest of the tournament with a left knee injury which will require surgery.
Australia was also disappointed to withdraw No. 8 Wycliff Palu with a recurring left hamstring strain.
With a chance to enlighten New Zealanders of his unusual try-scoring celebration, All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg instead continued to mystify.
Dagg marked both of his tries in the 37-17 win over France last Saturday with cryptic hand and arm gestures. Asked on Tuesday to explain what he was doing, Dagg offered only clues.
"The first clue is the dog meows," he said. Then he added, "The laughing bear drives a motorcycle. That's my last clue for today."
Nobody was any wiser.