Brazil & China PR through to last four
Brazil and China came through their respective quarter-final ties at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006 this afternoon to move one step closer to a podium finish.
The South Americans did it the hard way at Moscow's Torpedo Stadium, finally settling a thrilling encounter with Nigeria in stoppage time, while their Asian counterparts were efficiency personified as they swept aside the hosts hours later at the same venue.
Brazilian fans had to wait until first-half injury time for their opening goal, and then another forty-five minutes for their second - a header from a free-kick that followed a late Nigerian sending-off . The Asian champions, by contrast, decided to eschew any heart-stopping drama, and had their match against hosts Russia effectively wrapped up before the interval.
Brazil leave it late
There was drama right up to the final whistle in this afternoon's first quarter-final in Moscow, where Brazil and Nigeria fought out an intense and keenly-contested battle that swayed first one way and then the other.
Watching from the stands, the Auriverde fans - among them CSKA Moscow's Brazilian striker Vagner Love - looked on anxiously as their country's defence was subjected to an early battering. Roared on by a noisy and colourful contingent at the ground, the Falconets were quickly in the ascendancy, and tried valiantly to eke out an early advantage against the more fancied South Americans.
Despite being on the back foot for long periods in the first half, Brazil went ahead seconds before the break. Losing her marker after a corner kick, Fabiana stole in at the near post to head the opener past Tochukwu Oluehi.
Unperturbed, the Africans came out fighting after the break and were soon dominating possession. Cynthia Uwak, who had played a decisive part in her side's comeback against Canada in their group game, again showed great composure, this time angling a low side-footed shot into the far corner to square the match.
Just when it appeared as if extra-time was inevitable, the winning goal arrived. With just seconds remaining on the clock, Oluehi charged out of her area to stop the advancing Fabiana, but in so doing fouled the Brazilian and received her marching orders.
When the resulting Danielle free-kick on the edge of the box was touched on to the crossbar, Adriane was first to react, heading home the winner to spark jubilant celebrations on the Auriverde bench.
China PR march on
Ma Xiaoxu's dream of bringing not only the world championship trophy, but also the best player and top scorer awards back to China remains alive and well after this evening's hugely impressive victory over the hosts.
After surviving a few early scares, Russia's hopes took a dash in the eighth minute when Zi Jingjing, receiving an incisive assist from Ma, powered a waist-high shot past Todua in the Russian goal.
With the hosts going forward in a valiant attempt to breach the Chinese rearguard, the Steel Rosebuds struck again on 19 minutes. This time it was all Ma. With a skilful dribble near the byline, the Chinese captain found herself one-on-one with the keeper and curled her shot between Todua and the near post with the outside of her foot. It marked goal number five for the tournament top-scorer, who has now found the target in each of her side's games at Russia 2006.
Five minutes before the interval, the Asian side as good as ended the contest. Zhang Wei Shuang was on hand to stroke home her side's third after Zi Jingjing's long-range effort had come back off the post.
The persistent rain only added to the gloom for Valentin Grishin's side, who came out for the second half without their star striker Elena Danilova . Against all the odds, Russia's most promising young player bowed out of the tournament without a single goal, leaving her team-mates to go in search of a consolation strike.
China, however, had not finished yet and, with space opening up, managed to counter and grab their fourth. Closing in on goal with a player over, You Ria had time and space to chest down and flick home a measured cross all in one, elegant movement. With a place in the semis secure, the Chinese coach decided it was the right moment to substitute his captain and save her legs for the next battle.
The line up for the last four will be known on Sunday after the quarter-finals between USA and Germany and, later, Korea DPR and France at St Petersburg's Petrovsky stadium.