Group C: Holders left in Koreans' shade
Group C took an unexpected course from day one, with the unfancied Korea DPR shocking reigning champions Germany in their opening game en route to claiming first place and a berth in the last eight.
The Thailand 2004 winners soon regained their momentum to take the runners-up spot, with Mexico trailing in third despite a promising beginning. Bringing up the rear were the beleaguered Swiss, who suffered heavy defeats at the hands of the group's two big guns.
1. Korea DPR, 9 pts
Although they arrived in Russia without much of a fanfare, the unheralded Koreans soon grabbed everyone's undivided attention with a convincing 2-0 win over the mighty Germans in the group opener.
Prompted by the vision and creative talents of Kim Kyong Hwa, the Asian outsiders followed that up with a 4-0 win over the struggling Swiss. "My players have never faced European teams before and the tournament will help them gain some valuable experience," commented the modest Choe Kwang Sok with obvious understatement.
Despite having virtually assured qualification for the quarter-finals, the Koreans maintained the impeccable standards they had set with a crushing 4-0 defeat of Mexico . With the highly impressive Kim to the fore again, aided and abetted by the irrepressible Kim Chun Hui, they yet again underlined their championship credentials. "Our girls have shown how well prepared they are and we're not scared of anyone," said Choe.
2. Germany, 6 pts
The holders got their defence off to the worst possible start when they were ambushed by the streetwise Koreans in their opening game. Germany coach Maren Meinert was quick to admit her side had got exactly what they deserved: "I'm very disappointed. After only a few minutes you could see we were second-best out there." Whatever the German supremo said to her side in the aftermath of defeat, it certainly did the trick.
The champions of two years ago got back on track immediately with a 9-1 drubbing of Mexico, inspired by a virtuoso performance from Celia Okoyino Da Mbabi . The skipper teamed up with midfield partner Nadine Kessler and front duo Simone Laudehr and Anna Blasse to terrorise the Mexican rearguard with some dazzling interplay and lethal finishing.
The goal-hungry Germans had yet to sate their appetite, though, and racked up a handsome 6-0 victory over a dispirited Switzerland side, a result that slightly flattered the victors all the same. Showing less cohesion than they did against the Mexicans, the world champions were indebted to some fine individual performances as they ran out easy winners.
3. Mexico, 3 pts
El Tri began their campaign in fine fettle, disposing of Switzerland 4-2 in an exciting game that saw strikers Monica Ocampo and Charlyn Corral use their speed and guile to great effect. The diminutive number 10, who became the tournament's youngest-ever scorer at the age of 14 years and 11 months, caught the eye in particular with her exceptional vision, sharp turn of pace and mazy dribbling, not to mention some sublime dead-ball skills.
No sooner had Leonardo Cuellar's side laid down the gauntlet, however, than a Germany team with much to prove gave them a bloody nose. On a torrid afternoon, the Mexican defence simply fell apart, leaving keeper Anjuli Ladron to pick the ball out of the net on no less than nine occasions . For Cuellar's inexperienced side, it was a severe blow from which they would not recover.
"We knew from the start we were in a very difficult group," sighed the coach as he took stock of the wreckage. "Germany and Korea are two strong teams and I reckon they'll both be in the final."
That chastening defeat prompted Cuellar to adopt an ultra-defensive approach for his side's final match against Korea DPR, but all to no avail. The Mexicans' counter-attacking game foundered on the Asians' rock-like defence, and with acres of space in which to operate in midfield, the Korean playmakers simply picked off their opponents at will.
4. Switzerland, 0 pts
If they are to face the future with confidence, bottom-placed Switzerland will need to ponder long and hard the reasons for their disastrous Russia 2006 campaignm, and address them quickly.
The competition began well for the debutantes when Vanessa Buerki opened the scoring against Mexico, but the smiles soon slipped from Swiss faces when a series of defensive errors allowed the girls in green to turn the game around.
The Helvetian back-line got its act together in the first half against Korea DPR only to concede a sloppy goal just before the break. The floodgates duly opened after the restart, forcing coach Claudio Taddei to go back to the drawing board.
"We're giving too many goals away," he lamented after the 4-0 reverse. The Swiss horror show had yet to reach its agonising conclusion, however, with Germany dishing out a distinctly unneighbourly 6-0 defeat in their third and final match.