Korea Republic, England and USA completed the quarter-final line-up as a rousing group stage reached a fitting conclusion. The trio sealed their progression in very different manners, however, on a day on which Nigeria, Brazil and France all succumbed to elimination.
The Americans sneaked through on goal difference after sharing two wonder goals with Les Bleuettes, who had needed victory to advance, while the Taeguk Ladies beat the English 3-0 to edge their opponents to top spot in Group D. Lois Fidler's team did manage to finish runners-up in the section, but only by the skin of their teeth: had Nigeria added a fifth goal to their 2-2 draw with Brazil, they would have marched on at their rivals' expense.
Japan may have been safely through to the knockout phase already, but they underlined their title credentials in a bolder font with an emphatic defeat of Paraguay. The result ensured Hiroshi Yoshida's side advanced with the competition's only 100 per cent record, and took them on to 17 goals - almost double what the first stage's next most-prolific team recorded.
It was billed as a winner-takes-all encounter for a place in the quarter-finals, but after 90 minutes of enchanting, end-to-end exchanges failed to separate them, USA breathed a sigh of relief as their superior goal difference sent them through as Group C runners-up. With American goalkeeper Taylor Vancil and her counterpart Laetitia Philippe in resplendent form, it was always going to take something special to breach their resistance. And that is exactly what Vicki DiMartino conjured up on 57 minutes, thumping the ball into the back of the Europeans' net. Lea Rubio equalised with a wonder strike of her own - a 30-yard piledriver which also went in off the underside of the crossbar - but despite France's desperate pursuit of a deciding goal, Vancil's reflexes again came to USA's rescue.
The other games
Japan may have rested key players and played at a numerical disadvantage for over half the game, but doubles from Natsui Kishikawa, Haruka Hamada and Saori Takahashi inspired the Young Nadeshiko to a 7-2 victory. Korea Republic also impressed throughout a one-sided 3-0 win over England. Ji So Yun, Koh Kyung Yeon and Song Ari were on target for the South Koreans, who ensured Asia's full quota of representatives reached the last eight.
Nigeria and Brazil thrilled their audience in Christchurch, but a 2-2 draw ultimately suited neither side. The Seleção required a convincing victory to secure South America a presence in the next round, but despite the sublime artistry of Ketlen, they fell short. The Africans came considerably closer to finishing second in Group D and, as it transpired, were only one goal shy of pipping England. Having been reduced to ten players, Felix Ibe Ukwu's charges nonetheless strove relentlessly for the three points, but encountered a nemesis in goalkeeper Aline.
Natsui Kishikawa (JPN)
The Japanese captain scored her second brace of the tournament, one of her goals courtesy of a stunning 30-metre free-kick. Not bad for a centre-half.
What they said
"Taylor made an absolutely fantastic save near the end to get us through. I got totally carried away, started yelling 'Yay, Taylor' and totally forgot about the game - until the coach started yelling at me to get in there to help defend!" Vicki DiMartino, USA player.
All the results
Paraguay 2-7 Japan
USA 1-1 France
Nigeria 2-2 Brazil
England 0-3 Korea Republic