Late drama produces all-Asian final
The Koreans defeated Brazil by the only goal of the game to ensure they will finish their debut world championship as runners-up at worst, while the Canarinhas were eliminated at the semi-final stage for the third time in succession.
In the second semi-final, China held off the dominant USA in normal and extra-time, before Zhang Yanru saved the decisive penalty to hand the Asians a 5-4 shoot-out victory.
Even ahead of their semi against the Koreans, the Brazilians were responsible for an injection of colour into a grey and rainy Thursday afternoon in Moscow.
A handful of the South American starlets sported tinted hair extensions for the occasion, keeper Barbara choosing blue, Maurine and Monica opting for white, and Erika glowing in bright orange.
Just as in the quarter-finals, they were supported from the stands by CSKA Moscow's Brazilian ace Vagner Love , himself resplendent in a blue hair-do.
For the first time at the tournament, the Lokomotiv stadium played host to the day's entertainment. The specialist football ground, with its fascinating colour scheme and spectacular roof, provided a worthy setting for the semi-finals, and will also stage the final and the third-place play-off.
However, the weather chose not to match the impressive surroundings as rain bucketed down continuously from leaden skies. The conditions were certainly not to the South Americans' liking, with the Auriverde never really able to get going against their determined opponents.
Korea DPR, once again backed by a knot of incessantly chanting die-hard fans who filled the compact stadium with noise and passion, dominated throughout and created much the better of the chances.
Brazil struggled to free themselves from the Korean stranglehold and rarely came within shooting distance of their opponents' goal, a fact comically illustrated in a one-sided first half when a flock of small birds settled in keeper Jon Myong Hui's six-yard box and remained there undisturbed for several minutes.
However, the match had still seemed destined for extra-time when Ri Un Hyang struck the Koreans' winner following a corner three minutes from time. The victory represents the latest chapter in a remarkable success story for a side regarded as rank outsiders ahead of the tournament.
Congratulations immediately began to arrive from home, although at a very unfortunate moment for coach Choe Kwang Sok. Just after members of the media had been reminded to switch off all mobile phones prior to the post-match news conference, the victorious coach's device began ringing loudly. He sheepishly removed the phone from his pocket, and the caller was required to wait a couple of minutes.
Chinese hold their nerve
The second match of the day saw China take on the USA in another tight encounter. The pitch, now sodden and unwieldy, became a muddy battleground as the teams slugged it out to a goalless draw at the end of normal time.
US coach Tim Schulz opted for an extensive reshuffle to his line-up and brought in five new faces, although eyebrows were raised in surprise at the omission of Kelley O'Hara, Amy Rodriguez and Danesha Adams, all goalscorers against Germany in the quarter-finals, and that game's Player of the Match, Amanda Poach.
Despite the changes, the Americans were the better of the sides throughout with the more precise passing and significantly more chances. Ma Xiaoxu , the star of the tournament so far, was a peripheral and isolated figure as the Chinese were restricted to dogged defence. The introduction of Poach, O'Hara and Adams after half-time made the US girls even stronger, but they were unable to net even one of their numerous chances.
The pitch became heavier and more slippery as the game went into extra-time, but if anything, it served to increase the Americans' dominance. However, they committed the cardinal sin of contriving to squander a string of golden opportunities on a day when the ball simply did not want to go over the line.
The Chinese, having looked out for the count, summoned up their final reserves of energy and made it though to the final whistle, raising their arms in triumph at the end. The penalty shoot-out ultimately went the Asians' way when Lauren Cheney saw her spot-kick cannon touched over the crossbar by Player of the Match, Zhang.
So, in the most painful and bitter fashion, the young Americans confronted the truth behind one of the game's immutable laws: missed chances mean lost matches.