Aussies & Canucks crash as quarter-finals take shape
THE DAY REPLAYED: The first four quarter-finalists at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 took their places on Wednesday afternoon, with Nigeria going forward to meet Brazil, and Russia setting up a clash with the Chinese. Moscow's Torpedo stadium will be the venue for both games and fans look certain to be treated to two intriguing and potentially thrilling encounters.
The day's action got under way with two draws, as Brazil and New Zealand fought out a goalless stalemate and Russia and Australia drew 1-1, results that spelled an early exit for the two Antipodean hopefuls.
The goals flowed more freely in the evening, though, as Nigeria crushed Finland 8-0 to book their quarter-final berth in emphatic fashion. That result dealt a killer blow to Canada's hopes, who slid to a narrow defeat to eventual Group B winners China PR.
Group A: Russia through, but only just
Brazil ran out on an uncomfortable afternoon of heavy showers and oppressive heat at the Petrovsky Stadium safe in the knowledge that a draw would see them through to the knockout stages. With Monica out through injury and Renata Costa dropping back to marshal the defence, the Brazilian midfield was stripped of its usual vibrancy, prompting the South Americans to adopt a no-frills, safety-first policy designed to secure that all-important point.
New Zealand coach John Herdman barked out his orders in typical fashion for the entire 90 minutes, but his promptings failed to inspire the tournament first-timers, who mustered only two shots all afternoon, neither of which troubled Barbara in the Brazil goal. With Jorge Barcelos' side content to go through the motions in reaching their objective, the New Zealanders can at least return home with satisfaction of having taken a point off one of the powerhouses of the women's game.
Over at the Torpedo Stadium, meanwhile, Russia and Australia were locked in a tense, entertaining duel for second place. The Young Matildas needed nothing less than a win to advance and fought tooth and nail to achieve their objective. The hard-running, pink-booted Sasha McDonnell enjoyed a day to forget in front of goal, however, passing up no fewer than three gilt-edged chances in the first half alone.
Not surprisingly, the hosts eventually punished the Aussies' wayward finishing, with Elena Danilova pouncing on a defensive error before expertly carving out an opening that was gleefully accepted by Anna Kozhnikova.
To their credit, the plucky Australians refused to buckle and kept the pressure on Elena Todua's goal until Danielle Brogan equalised with a header from a corner kick five minutes from time. However, though the Young Matildas threw everything but the kitchen sink at the hosts in a desperate search for the winner, a combination of stoic defending and a sizeable slice of good fortune allowed the Russians to cling on to a hard-earned point.
In the last act on a draining afternoon, Valentin Grishin's exhausted players turned to salute the thousands of vociferous fans who had braved the torrential rain and howling winds to cheer their young women on to a hard-earned draw.
Group B: Finns floored by knockout Nigerians
The fate of the four aspirants in Group B was virtually sealed after only 15 minutes of the evening's action. That was all the time Nigeria needed to run up a 3-0 lead over Finland at the Podmoskovie Stadium, a scoreline that catapulted them into second place ahead of Canada on both points and goal difference.
With the Nigerians eventually racking up eight against the overwhelmed Finns, Ian Bridge's side would have needed to dish out a hammering of their own to a resolute and well-marshalled China PR side. But it was not to be.
Despite throwing everything they had into attack and dominating the game for long periods, the Canadians failed to carve out any real clear-cut chances and succumbed to a goal from, yes, you guessed it, Ma Xiaoxu just after the restart. It was the inspirational skipper's fourth goal of the campaign and it proved enough to seal her side's place at the top of the group.
While the North Americans were slipping to defeat, Nigeria took full advantage of Finland's defensive frailties to surge into second spot. The shot-shy Scandinavians failed to register a single strike on target and were shown the route to goal time an again by a merciless African side.
Their amazing 33 shots on goal yielded an eight-goal return, with Maureen Eke helping herself to a hat-trick, Rita Chikwelu and Akudo Sabi grabbing a brace apiece and Cynthia Uwak also getting in on the act. Nigeria's reward for their goalscoring extravaganza is a mouth-watering showdown with Brazil on Saturday.