THE DAY REPLAYED: Russia 2006 is officially underway, and the tournament certainly got off to a flying start. The first goal took a mere two minutes to arrive, and a couple of hours later, fans were celebrating the 200th goal in the competition's history.
Elena Danilova, Ma Xiaoxu and Sally Shipard were just some of the stars on display on the opening day and, even though Marta was a high-profile absentee, the fans in Moscow and St Petersburg nevertheless went home more than happy.
The day's surprise result came courtesy of Nigeria, who edged out Canada, while Russia and Brazil had to settle for a draw. Elsewhere, wins for Australia and China saw their campaigns get off to an excellent start.
Anyone turning up a few minutes late to the opening match of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship at the Podmoskovie Stadium in the Shchelkovo suburb of Moscow would have been in for a surprise. The Finland team decided to take the game to their Chinese counterparts right from the off, and in just 57 seconds had taken the lead through an own goal by Fan Yuan. The goal duly became the fastest-ever in the competition's history, surpassing Angie Woznuk's strike for USA in 2004 against Russia. Unfortunately for the Finns, this was as good as it got.
Slowly but surely, China hauled themselves back into the match. Chinese striker Ma Xiaoxu, who is already drawing favourable comparisons with Sun Wen thanks to her technique, vision and strength on the ball, grabbed the all-important equaliser from the penalty spot. With the game evenly poised, coach Shang Ruihua sent on Zi Jingjing, who swung the balance in favour of the Chinese, notching the winner a few minutes after coming on midway through the second half.
In the afternoon game at the Petrovsky Stadium in St Petersburg, the Antipodean derby between Australia and New Zealand ended up with the AFC team securing the three points. Collette McCallum, who had already represented the Aussies at Thailand in 2004, bagged a brace, putting her on her own at the top of the scoring charts, albeit for just a few hours. Sally Shipard rounded off the scoring for one of the tournament's more fancied teams, though their Kiwi opponents were by no means outclassed in this their first appearance in the competition.
Hosts draw a blank, Nigeria leave it late
The St Petersburg fans, who along with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and Vitaly Mutko, President of the Russian Football Federation, enjoyed a wonderful opening ceremony, were also lucky enough to see the host nation in action on the first evening. Russia's first match turned out to be a tough encounter, pitting them against a Brazil team who had beaten them 4-2 after extra time in a classic quarter-final encounter back in 2004.
This time around, however, the South Americans were without their lynchpin, Marta, whereas the hosts and 2005 European champions were counting on their own star player, Elena Danilova, to put one over on their old adversaries. The match proved to be a tight contest, but despite good chances for both sides, it would end in a goalless draw. Danilova, who was top scorer at both the 2005 and 2006 UEFA European Championships, will have to wait a while longer to open her account on home soil.
While goals were at a premium in St Petersburg, the evening's other match stood in stark contrast. Nigeria and Canada met in Shchelkovo, where the African nation came out on top by the odd goal in five. Canada led for most of the match, before Nigeria equalised in the 82nd minute and then stole all three points with an injury-time strike.
The Canucks can at least be proud of the fact that Kaylyn Kyle scored the 200th goal in the history of the competition, but that will be of little consolation to Ian Bridge's team after they had twice led during the match. Cynthia Uwak celebrated her third U-20 World Championships with a pair of goals for Nigeria, making her one of only five players ever to have hit the net twice in one match in this competition.
Perhaps a sign that this will be Africa's year.