THE DAY REPLAYED - The dividing line between joy and sorrow is wafer-thin at times, as was proved yet again on a remarkable and wholly memorable first round of quarter-finals at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™. Holders and favourites Germany lost a match at the tournament for the first time since a 3–2 quarter-final defeat to USA fully 12 years ago, dashing the hosts’ dream of a third global triumph on the trot, while France once and for all laid to rest a ghost from the past.
Five years to the day after the French men's team fell to Italy on penalties in the final of the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, also on German soil, Les Bleues claimed a berth in the last four for the very first time after overcoming England in another dramatic shoot-out. It also means the French women have qualified for the 2012 London Olympics, whereas the spectre of England's woes from the penalty spot at major tournaments surfaced once again.
Germany controlled long stretches of their clash with the Japanese in Wolfsburg, but created very little by way of clear-cut chances against the Asians’ flawless rearguard. Early in the second half of extra time, Japan substitute Karina Maruyama showed how it should be done, latching onto a sublime Homare Sawa pass to net the winning goal.
Before that, the Leverkusen crowd witnessed what was only the fourth penalty shoot-out in the history of the FIFA Women's World Cup. The role of tragic hero fell to England's oldest player, captain Faye White, who blasted her team’s fifth spot-kick against the bar. While the French celebrated, the salt in English wounds was exiting the tournament without losing a match in normal or extra time. However, the French victory was by no means undeserved, as Les Bleues were the better team on the day, even if they had to wait until the 88th minute before Elise Bussaglia cancelled out Jill Scott's opener.
Goal of the day
England-France, Elise Bussaglia (88th minute)
In a dramatic finish to normal time, France were rewarded for a half-hour onslaught on the English goal, when Bussaglia took her courage in both hands, thrust to the edge of the box, and curled a stunningly precise shot with her left foot straight into the top corner. The glorious finish from the 25-year-old, a native of Champagne-Ardennes in the north of France, patently broke battling England’s hearts, and will be seen in retrospect as the pivotal moment in a tense and exciting game.
Extra-time times two
Prior to the tournament, all the experts warned that the top nations are now tightly bunched in terms of quality, tactics and fighting spirit, and the passionate crowds have been treated to genuinely close and exhilarating women's football throughout. As a result, it was no surprise that the first day of the knockout stages saw both matches go into extra time, although the phenomenon has already occurred at the FIFA Women's World Cup in the past. At another record-breaking edition of the tournament, the 1999 finals in the USA, Brazil won the third-place play-off and the hosts sent a 90,185 crowd at the Pasadena Rose Bowl into raptures with victory in the Final, both on penalties and on the same day. Even in the absence of the hosts from now on, it seems the fans can look forward to drama and thrills all the way in Germany.
The sacred ritual
Despite pre-match tension, stress and a huge media presence in the build-up to a do-or-die encounter, some things remain sacred. As the England team bus approached the Arena in Leverkusen at around 5pm in the afternoon, coach Hope Powell and her staff were seen taking a cup of tea, totally in accordance with an ancient and long-standing institution in their home country. It was, of course, only 4pm in Britain, which is traditionally tea-time for the English. And why not enjoy a refreshing cuppa when you can? A little calm before the storm of a FIFA Women's World Cup quarter-final can only have been a good thing.
600 - Jill Scott's superb opener in Leverkusen was one for the history books, as the 24-year-old netted the 600th goal in the history of the FIFA Women's World Cup. The 1.80m midfielder will have mixed feelings about the goal, however, as it was not enough for England to book a place in the last four.
“Our problem was that we just couldn't score, because England ran and defended for their lives. But obviously, I'm delighted we've ended up winning, even though we were behind until shortly before the final whistle in normal time, and then again in the penalty shoot-out,” France coach Bruno Bini.
Sunday 10 July
Sweden-Australia, Augsburg, 1 pm CET
Brazil-USA, Dresden, 5.30 pm CET
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