Hosts leave it late to sink Kiwis
Russia and New Zealand provided an unforgettable feast of football at St Petersburg's Petrovsky Stadium in a pulsating Group A encounter at Russia 2006.
The host nation were quick to assert control before allowing the Kiwis back into the game to set up a tense finale, and it was only in the dying seconds the Russians secured all three points, leaving themselves well placed to qualify for the knockout phase.
The Russians raced out the blocks, and by the 14th minute were already 2-0 ahead. For the first, Elena Morozova dispatched an accurate cross into the box, where Anna Kozhnikova - normally a defensive midfielder, but used here in a more attacking role - sent a header flashing into the net past the helpless Kiwi keeper, Aroon Clansey (1-0, 4').
At that stage, the Russians were in complete control. It was clear that coach Valentin Grishin had worked hard to iron out failings from the first game, as his midfield was performing much more effectively than it had against Brazil. Indeed, it was good work from deep that produced the second Russian goal. Elena Shchegaleva dispatched a ball into the penalty area, where Elena Terekhova got the better of New Zealand's Petria Rennie. Chesting the ball down, she sent a dipping volley crashing in off the post (2-0, 14').
"At moments like that, you don't really have time to think about what you're doing," Terekhova said afterwards of her wonder-strike. "I just saw the cross and thought I'd try to control it and have a go."
At that point, it looked like the contest was over before it had even begun, with Kiwis seemingly unable to mount any kind of attack. Then, however, with the help of a set piece, Emma Humphries picked out her skipper, Kirsty Yallop , who sent a powerful header goalwards from eight metres. The ball struck the post, but rebounded to Abby Erceg, who drove home a rocket of a shot from the edge of the penalty box (2-1, '18).
For the rest of the first half, the Russians launched wave after wave of promising attacks, creating enough chances to extend their lead by several more goals before the break. In the opening 45 alone, the Russians had seven excellent efforts on target, and, time and again, Kiwi coach John Herdman had his keeper, Aroon Clansey to thank for keeping his team in the game.
Kiwi keeper on form
In the 25th minute, Clansey had to be at full stretch to protect her goal after a failed pass back by one of her defenders. Then, three minutes later, she managed to deflect away a powerful strike from Danilova and parry a 15-metre shot with her legs.
The Russians soon had serious cause to regret those, and many more, missed chances. Eleven minutes after the restart, Kiwi defender Emma Humphries, who had been left completely unmarked by the Russian defenders, popped up at the far post to fire home a cross from the ever-lively Alexandra Riley(2-2, 56').
"What can I say?" sighed Russia's keeper Elvira Todua , reflecting on the Kiwis' equaliser. "That's Russia for you. We always seem to make things hard for ourselves and then produce the last-minute heroics."
After the equaliser, Russia's confidence seemed to have vanished. They were clearly tiring as they struggled to cope with the energetic runs of Riley and Sarah Gregorius. Indeed, n the 65th minute, it was only thanks to some brave work by keeper Elvira Todua, who rushed out of her box to foil a certain goal from Gregorius, that the score remained level.
"I've no idea why we stopped playing," shrugged Terekhova. "We did our best to keep going, and to egg each other on… Maybe we were too quick to think we had the game won."
Regardless, they were able to produce one final moment of drama. In the game's final attack, the ball fell once more to Danilova, who delivered a cross into the box. It found Svetlana Akimova, who had entered the field just six minutes earlier, and the substitute kept her nerve to side-foot home a stoppage-time winner (3-2, 90+3).
"It was a brilliant pass from Lena [Danilova], and all it needed was the final touch," said Terekhova of the winning goal. Now she and her teammates can look forward to a decisive clash with Australia.
Player of the match: ALEXANDRA RILEY
"She worked hard, both in defence and in attack, creating lots of problems for the Russian defence on the right flank, and she had a hand in New Zealand's equaliser," Shuk-chi Chan (HKG), FIFA Technical Study Group .