Chile 2008 got off to a slow start when China and Argentina played out a goalless draw in the opening game of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup held in Chillan. The 300th goal of the competition's history had to wait for one of the later games but by the time it arrived, the party was already in full swing.
"I am sure that the fans will enjoy this historic tournament, the first FIFA women's competition to be held in South America," commented FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter. "It is an example of the growing importance of women's football in the world and I am sure we will see new football stars emerge here in Chile."
Coquimbo was the place to be on this first day as the 18,000 fans packed into the Estadio Francisco Sanchez Rumoroso enjoyed a colourful opening ceremony and cheered on the host team, who were unable to reward their vociferous supporters with a win.
The first game on the card in Coquimbo could not have been more exciting, with a goal in the dying seconds finally tilting the game in the African side's favour. The powerful Nigerians looked to be in for an easy afternoon when they surged into a 2-0 lead after only 35 minutes, with Sarah Michael scoring the 300th goal in the history of the competition in the process. The Young Ferns refused to buckle, however, and pulled level with two goals either side of the break. The chances flowed as both sides went for the win, before Chukwelu, the game's outstanding performer, eventually won the day for Nigeria.
The other matches
Runners-up in 2006, China looked impressive on their debut against Argentina and dominated proceedings. The only problem for the Asians was that they could not score, hitting the post on two occasions to allow the Albiceleste to escape with a valuable point.
Next up in Chillan were France and USA, and it was not until the second half of that game that the fans there actually saw a goal. The French battled hard but had to bow to the inspiration of Sydney Leroux, who responded to her coach's half-time pleas to inspire the Americans to victory.
The Rojitas delayed their tournament entrance to allow the home fans to watch the men take on Spain in a friendly, which Chile lost 3-0. There were tears in the eyes of the Chilean girls as they sang the national anthem before matching England in an evenly balanced first half. Nerves, inexperience and the first signs of tiredness began to take their toll after the break, though, allowing Brooke Chaplen to put the English ahead. Thwarted in their search for an equaliser, Marta Tejedor's side conceded a second ten minutes from time.
A disappointing day for the hosts perhaps, but with plenty of exciting football, tenacious play and wonderful goals on show, the opening day of Chile 2008 still proved to be a memorable one.
Sydney Leroux (USA)
The striker looked on nervously from the sidelines as the French pushed forward in the first half, forcing USA keeper Alyssa Naeher to pull off some fine saves. But when she was thrown into the fray after the restart, Leroux turned the game on its head. After setting up Alex Morgan to open the scoring, she then grabbed two goals of her own to stake a compelling claim for a place in the starting XI.