There are still two days to go before the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games officially open, but that did not stop the Women's Football Tournament from getting underway on Wednesday. Intense heat and high humidity were the order of the day as reigning champions the USA opened their defence with a defeat. Elsewhere, Germany and Brazil shared the spoils after a fierce duel and China PR gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about with a win over Sweden.
The big game
As if being hampered by the absence of their most deadly finisher was not bad enough, the USA promptly conceded the two quickest goals in the history of the tournament when they took on Norway in Qinhuangdao. There was no way back for the 2004 champions after the Scandinavians' early double salvo, especially with the lethal Abby Wambach sidelined through injury. And although the Americans moved the ball around gamely, their opponents, ably marshalled by the veteran Solveig Gulbrandsen, held onto their lead without too much discomfort.
The other games
In a repeat of the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, Germany and Brazil served up a tense encounter in which the Canarinha enjoyed the better chances. It all ended goalless, however, much to the disappointment of the watching Ronaldinho and his team-mates, who were among the VIP guests at the Shenyang Olympic Sports Centre Stadium.
That result helped Korea DPR take an early lead in Group F after they edged out Nigeria 1-0. The scoreline flattered the Africans, who were indebted to some wayward Korean finishing and goalkeeper Precious Dede for escaping a heavier defeat.
Hosts China PR were clearly inspired by the occasion as they took to the field against Sweden in Tianjin. Pu Wei put the Steel Roses ahead early on, only for the Swedes to eventually get to grips with the humid conditions and reply just before half time through Lotta Schelin. But with nearly 38,000 fans cheering them on, China PR secured the points thanks to a fine strike from Han Duan.
Nevertheless, the win was not enough to give the hosts first place in Group E, that honour going to Canada, who had too much power and experience up front for Argentina. Candace Chapman and Kara Lang set the Canucks on their way, while Ludmila Manicler picked up a consolation goal five minutes from the end for the Albiceleste, who can at least take heart from an improvement on their showings at China 2007.
Japan pulled off the comeback of the day. Trailing a boldly impressive New Zealand side 2-0 with less than 20 minutes remaining, the Nadeshiko never gave up, and were rewarded for their persistence with a valuable point.
Marta could be forgiven for having recurring nightmares about German keeper Nadine Angerer. It was Angerer who kept out her penalty in the final at China 2007, and the shot-stopper was at it again on Wednesday, ensuring that the latest meeting between the sides ended in a goalless draw. The German No1 kept a clean sheet in every game at last year's FIFA Women's World Cup and showcased her superb reflexes and flawless positioning with two spectacular stops from Cristiane and Marta. The question now is, can she go unbeaten at Beijing 2008?
2 - The number of minutes it took for Norway's Leni Larsen Kaurin to give the USA that sinking feeling in their Group G opener. Coming after just 69 seconds, Kaurin's strike was the quickest in the history of the tournament and was followed just two minutes later by a second Norwegian goal from Melissa Wiik, which equalled the competition's previous fastest, scored by Germany's Pia Wunderlich against Brazil at Atlanta 1996.
What they said
"I thought both sides came out full of confidence and it was a tough battle for the first five minutes. Unfortunately we lost that battle and the two early goals made things much more difficult for us. We're disappointed to lose but we'll be working hard to get back on track against Japan." Christie Rampone, USA captain.