THE DAY REPLAYED - A rare old storm is brewing up in the Far
East and it has nothing to do with Birgit Prinz, Abby Wambach,
Marta or Kelly Smith. Typhoon Wipha is heading for Shanghai and
promises to make life even tougher for the participants at the FIFA
Women's World Cup who have already had to cope with high levels
Nigeria and Sweden, who now head home after failing to qualify from today's games might reflect that they are departing China at just the right time. But freak weather or not, this is a party that no one wants to leave, especially the Swedes who at USA 2003 made it all the way to the final day.
For the downcast Scandinavians, traditionally in the shake-up at this event, a 2-1 victory over Korea DPR was not enough and it is the beaten team, with a superior goal difference, who go through for the first time in this competition. Their 'reward' comes with a face-off against world champions Germany in Saturday's quarter-final in Wuhan.
Question marks over US
Having found the net with the clock showing just 57 seconds, USA not only claimed the second-fastest goal in the tournament's history but also constructed a platform to show the world the full range of their skills and power. Against Nigeria they fell short of that aim, however, and even though a 1-0 win meant they finished as Group B winners to claim a quarter-final meeting with England, the two-time champions progress with question marks hovering over them.
As the rain lashed down and those in the stands at Shanghai's Hongkou stadium looked with pity on those who turned up in sandals, Nigeria set about trying to recover from the early thunderbolt that arrived as Lori Chalupny jabbed in a shot via a deflection. It was only the second goal scored inside the opening 60 seconds of any FIFA Women's World Cup match.
The African nation had the support of the locals who in a sub-plot to the real contest, strove manfully to drown out the noisy American voices. They roared every time the green shirts went forward but it was not to be. Needing a win by three goals to continue their stay was the toughest of asks for a team who have always lost on this stage against the US. It is now four defeats in four with 16 goals conceded and just two finding the net at the other end - but Nigeria came close in a late flurry to achieving the satisfaction of a first-ever draw.
Sweden also needed to win by that margin against Korea DPR and an early strike lent encouragement to the supporters who made it a sunshine scene in Tianjin as they came bedecked in their country's colours. But when Charlotta Schelin's fourth-minute header was cancelled out by another of North Korea's long-distance spectaculars with Ri Un-Suk driving the ball high into the net from 25 yards, it became a forlorn hope for the Swedes who had never before failed to advance from the group stage.
Schelin scored her second of the game after half-time but Thomas Dennerby's side were unable to add to their tally. Still, at least they head home in the knowledge that theirs is still the record for the fastest goal at a FIFA Women's World Cup. That came as early as the ninth match in the first-ever tournament also held in China, a goal timed at 30 seconds by Lena Videkull against Japan.