China PR advance as US pay the penalty
Zhang Yanru was China PR's penalty hero as an all-Asian final against Korea DPR was eventually, and somewhat unjustly, set up with a 5-4 win on spot kicks over the USA following 120 goalless minutes at Moscow's Lokomotiv stadium.
Many had felt that these two heavyweights of women's football would have made worthy finalists, but in truth, this was not the evenly-matched contest we had anticipated, with the Chinese made to look distinctly ordinary by an American team who bested them throughout.
Even the Steel Rosebuds' coach, Shang Ruihua, acknowledged that his team had ridden their luck throughout, even if their mission had ultimately been accomplished.
"I knew beforehand what a hard battle this would be," he said, "so I adopted a tactic of defending and playing on the counter-attack. The longer it went, I knew our best chance to win was in a penalty shoot-out because we have a very good goalkeeper. I feel sorry for the US, but I'm proud of my players. And I promise we will be better in the final."
US coach Tim Schulz, whose outstanding side had paid a heavy price for their profligacy in front of goal, observed wryly: "It's a cruel game, isn't it? I'm very, very proud of my girls, all of whom are terrific players, and they're really hurting right now. We had worked on penalties, but it's never the same in practice as it is in the real thing."
With Schulz's line-up, the only surprise would have been if it contained no surprises and, as such, he lived up to everyone's expectations by making no fewer than four changes to the team that had swept aside the holders 4-1 in St Petersburg, with double goalscorer Danesha Adams among those dropped.
Shang, by contrast, largely opted for continuity, shuffling his pack in just two instances - one of which was enforced by an injury to Xi Dingying - with Lou Xiaoxu and Rao Hui Fang the players promoted to the starting 11.
In truth, neither side found their rhythm during tense opening exchanges that illustrated the depth of mutual respect between the two, but it was the Americans who threatened first, with Jessica Rostedt denied by Zhang from all of a few inches after China had made a hash of clearing a corner.
With the incessant rain and sodden pitch making life doubly treacherous, both goalkeepers needed those in front of them to be at their most vigilant, and this was certainly the case a few minutes later when the Chinese defence crowded out Rostedt after Tina Di Martino had impudently created the chance with two successive nutmegs.
There was no arguing with the fact that the US enjoyed the better of a largely forgettable first half, but Shang's side had proved time and again how lethal they are on the counter-attack and, with Ma Xiaoxu leading the line, their 2002 winners could never rest easy.
They were given a timely reminder of this on 38 minutes when, out of nothing, Ma turned elegantly at the left-hand edge of the box, burst towards goal at pace and rifled in a fizzing left-foot shot that Val Henderson did extremely well to hold.
Still, if either side had cause to be pleased with their first half efforts, it was the Americans, although Schulz evidently remained unsatisfied because he duly made a bold double substitution during the break, introducing Kelley O'Hara and Amanda Poach - a striker and a midfielder respectively - for the more defensive-minded Jordan Angeli and Sarah Wagenfurh.
Ma injury scare
Shang resisted the temptation to tinker, but as the rain continued to cascade down, there was a sharp intake of breath all round just before the hour-mark when Ma - playing her 10th competitive match in 40 days - was stretchered from the field after picking up a knock.
As it was, the tournament's top scorer returned to the field just in time to see Zhang produce a vital reflex save at her near post to deny Rostedt, who had raced clean through, this during a spell of sustained US pressure.
Ma was, in fact, cutting a somewhat lonely figure by this stage as play continued to swirl around the opposite goal, where substitute Danesha Adams was the next to go close, showing great skill before unleashing a ferocious 20-yard shot that flew just wide.
With four minutes remaining, Zi Jingjing reminded everyone that China still packed a punch by heading wide from a 12 yards, but a goal here would have been a grave injustice as the effort was sandwiched in between two excellent attempts from Lauren Cheney and O'Hara, both of which missed by a matter of inches.
Extra-time was then called upon to decide matters, but soon a familiar pattern was re-established as the Chinese continued to hang on grimly, somehow surviving as O'Hara's looping header came down off the underside of the bar and Adams missed a string of gilt-edged chances.
One had the nagging suspicion that the US would live to regret such wastefulness, and so it proved once the match was decided on penalties, when - after it had briefly looked like Ma would prove the unlikeliest of villains - her fellow no. 10, Brittany Bock, also missed and left Zhang to steal the limelight by tipping over Lauren Cheney's weak final effort.
"It was a hard battle," the keeper said afterwards, "but the players were always playing very hard to win and we'll do our best to play better and win the title in our next match."
Player of the Match: ZHANG YANRU
"China's goalkeeper had another excellent game and she has been the backbone of her team's success throughout the entire tournament," Tina Theune-Meyer (GER), FIFA Technical Study Group.