Both of the opening day's Group A matches at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship promise to be fascinating affairs.
Kicking off the group, and the tournament, will be New Zealand and Australia, two teams that until recently played in the same Oceania zone. That game will commence at the same time as Finland's face-off against China in Group B, while Russia will battle it out with Brazil in Group A just as Canada and Nigeria lock horns in Shchelkovo.
New Zealand v Australia
Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg, 17 August, 16.00
The tournament curtain-raiser promises to be an intriguing contest. New Zealand, who are making their FIFA World Championship debut in this category, find themselves facing the team that stopped them reaching the 2002 and 2004 editions of the tournament. That's because, until very recently, both teams played in the Oceania Football Confederation, where Australia had long been dominant force.
Australia's best performance to date in the tournament was at Canada 2002, when they lost 4-3 in extra time to Brazil at the quarter-final stage. Although the Young Matildas failed to clear the group stage at Thailand 2004, since then they have been coming on in leaps and bounds, as shown by their performance at the AFC Women's U-19 Championships in April. In their first Asian championship since joining the AFC, Australia edged out Japan to finish third behind regional heavyweights China and Korea DPR.
Although Australia look the stronger side on paper, the match promises to be a tight affair with both teams fancying their chances. "None of the girls doubt that we can beat Australia," states the Kiwis' coach John Herdman, whose team clearly has no intention of just making up the numbers . "But the players will have to perform to their full potential if they are to achieve their goal of reaching the last eight," he adds.
Australia's captain Sally Shipard is not expecting an easy ride either: "The games between us always tend to be tight because both teams have the same never-say-die attitude. Another thing is that, although we qualified ahead of them every time when we were in the OFC, we've never played New Zealand at this level. So I'm sure it will be well worth watching."
Russia v Brazil
Petrovsky Stadium, St. Petersburg, 17 August, 19.00
When the hosts were pooled alongside Brazil at the draw for the finals of Russia 2006, the gasp around the hall was audible. The Russian delegation could hardly have wanted to face such a tough opponent in their opening group game. However, the other attendees at the ceremony licked their lips in anticipation of a most appetising starter to the tournament, served up with helpings of the Russian resolve and Brazilian flair.
Russia coach Valentin Grishin also welcomed the draw: "It's good we're playing Brazil in the opening match. It's the start of the tournament, we'll be fresh and so we can put everything into the game."
Russia have played the Auriverde only once before in this competition, at the quarter-final stage of the Thailand 2004. Leading 2-1 with just minutes remaining, Russia allowed their opponents to equalise, and the South Americans went on to win 4-2 in extra time. It is clear from this match that the 2005 European champions should be able to face the Brazilians without trepidation, particularly in light of two major changes to the respective squads.
In St. Petersburg, Brazil will not be fielding star striker Marta, who was not released by her Swedish club, while the driving force of the Russian team, Elena Danilova - who did not play in Thailand - will appear for the tournament hosts.
Brazil fell at the semi-final stage both at Canada 2002 and Thailand 2004 , so are now out to better their achievement. Russia ended their debut appearance at the FIFA World Championship at the quarter-finals, and this time Grishin is very clear about his team's goal: "Our main objective is to get through the group stage."
Though the hosts will be without tough-tackling defender Oksana Titova because of injury, Grishin insists that their "ability to play team football" should limit the impact of her loss.