Ma seals Canada's fate
Ma Xiaoxu again proved China PR's match-winner as Shang Ruihua's side marched on to the quarter-finals at the expense of Canada, edging out the 2002 finalists 1-0 in a gritty and often-grim Group B clash at Moscow's Torpedo stadium.
The Steel Rosebuds will now return to this stadium to face the hosts on 26 August and, despite having progressed with three wins from three and with just one goal conceded, the Chinese coach believes that his side must improve considerably if they are to disappoint the Russian fans.
"We were lucky to get this result," he said frankly. "The Canadians played very active football and my players didn't react to that kind of pressure well in the first half. They improved a little in the second half, but we are still not playing to 100 per cent of our capacity. There are some technical and tactical flaws we will need to repair before our next game because the Russian team is very strong."
Despite his pre-match criticism of China's midfield - guilty, he claimed, of "not showing enough skill on the ball" - Shang Ruihua opted to make just one change to the team that had started the 3-0 win over Nigeria, recalling Rao Hui Fang at the expense of Zhuang Ran.
Bridge, by contrast, dropped three of the players who had helped Canada to a 2-0 victory over Finland, with the trio of promoted players - Lisa Collison, Katie Radchuck and Selenia Iacchelli - slotting into a compact and beefed-up 4-5-1 formation that held its own against the physically imposing Chinese.
It didn't, however, prevent the group leaders from carving out the first, and best, chance of the first half in just seven minutes, Lou Xiaoxu racing clean through and only being denied an early goal by a superb save by the impressive Stephanie Labbe low to her right.
Yet Canada proved be the toughest nut China had yet attempted to crack, and as the half wore on, the North Americans attempted numerous long-range efforts, the best of which came from their goal heroine against the Finns, Jodi-Ann Robinson forcing a fine save from Zhang Yanru.
A familiar goalscorer
Nevertheless, there remained a distinct lack of spark to Canada's forward forays and, with news of Nigeria's 4-0 half-time lead over the Finns filtering through, Ian Bridge opted at half-time to replace Collison with the more creative Aysha Jamani, switching Robinson back to the centre-forward role in which she seems most effective.
An early goal duly arrived, but not at the end Bridge was hoping, with Ma Xiaoxu profiting from an identical situation to that wasted by her namesake in the first half, racing through on to a lofted Yuan Fan pass and slotting the ball low past the advancing Labbe for her fourth goal at Russia 2006 (0-1, 48).
Yuan, whose assist later helped her win the Player of the Match award, was modest about the achievement and critical of her team's performance. "Generally speaking, we did not play well," she said. "It was only when the coach told us to push up at half-time that we produced a slightly better performance, and fortunately it was enough to gain victory."
Though the goal was a little hard on a Canada team who had not looked likely to concede, nor had they offered much to suggest that they were capable of scoring themselves, and falling behind did little to change this.
Robinson did at least bring some pace and dynamism to their attacking play, but save for a powerful 20-yard effort from the 17-year-old that flashed wide of Zhang's left-hand post, there was little to suggest that the Chinese goal was in danger of being breached.
Substitute Paige Adams tested Zhang from distance, but it was a measure of how comfortable the Asian champions were in their advantage that Shang even felt able to withdraw Ma, his captain and standard-bearer, with 10 minutes remaining.
Bridge, though, was nothing if not gracious in defeat. "My congratulations go to China for a tremendous achievement," he said afterwards. "I would say, though, that I am very proud of my players, who followed our gameplan perfectly and defended superbly against a strong and very technically skilful team who we knew could play through us. We're sad to be leaving as we had aspirations to go further, but we've been beaten by a very strong team."
Player of the Match: YUAN FAN
"She organised her defence very well, showed good positional play and also produced an excellent assist for the goal, so it was a very accomplished all-round performance," Tina Theune-Meyer (GER), FIFA Technical Study Group.