Canada strike early, repent later
© AFP

THE DAY REPLAYED: There's a clear warning to the crowds attending the festival of women's football in China and it has nothing to do with checking the weather forecast in the light of Typhoon Wipha's brief and dramatic visit. It has more to do with the fact that they shouldn't dally taking their seats. Even a few seconds late and you risk missing a goal.

Canada, who finished in fourth place at USA 2003, departed the tournament today but not before they had launched an assault on the record for the quickest goal at the FIFA Women's World Cup which had been threatened only two days earlier when the US got on the mark before the first minute had elapsed. The Canucks got even closer - they scored with 37 seconds gone. But they forgot that the game lasts 90 minutes and more and so paid a heavy price that will nag them all the way home. Those literary students in the ground who know all about Aesop and his fables looked at one another knowingly and smiled: "Ah, the hare and the tortoise."

So it is Australia who ended a thrilling, dramatic day with a place in the quarter-finals having scored in the 92nd minute to grab the single point they needed. Joining them there are Norway who rattled in seven goals against Ghana and were another side to open their scoring account early in the game, in their case after four minutes. Later the host nation and Brazil added their names to the qualifying list . So the Big Eight are in position, their focus fixed, their ambitions high. It promises to be an exciting final ten days.

In Chengdu, Canada were the hares, Melissa Tancredi looping her shot home just seven seconds beyond the 30 that it took Sweden's Lena Videkull to find the net in the first-ever tournament, also in China - a strike that continues to stand as the quickest in this competition.

Australia answered that instant salvo at the start of the second half but it seemed as if the Matildas were waltzing out of the tournament when Canada's reliable Christine Sinclair nodded what looked for all the world like the winner with five minutes remaining. That was until captain Cheryl Salisbury added another late twist. The tortoise had underlined Aesop's wisdom once more and Australia, who in their previous three FIFA Women's World Cup appearances did not win a single game, had emerged past the group stage for the first time.

Gulbrandsen's landmark goal
Norway will now face the host nation for a place in the semi-finals having deepened Ghana's woe. They also laid claim to the competition's 500th goal when Ragnhild Gulbrandsen scored their second of the game. She went on to add another two and with five goals now sits proudly on top of the goalscoring charts with five.

The Steel Roses kept a passionate crowd in Tianjin on tenterhooks until Li Jie broke the deadlock with a header just before the hour. It later became 2-0 but while they and their supporters celebrated, a shaft of realism began to intrude: in both previous tournaments on home soil China were eliminated at the quarter-final stage by European opponents, Germany FR in the 1985 FIFA U-17 World Cup and Sweden in the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup. Nevertheless, China PR had become the first host nation to reach the knockout phase in a FIFA tournament in 2007.

Brazil could never be mistaken for tortoises, not with speed merchants like Marta, Cristiane and Daniela in their ranks. They only needed a draw with Denmark in Hangzhou to be absolutely sure of advancing and appeared content with that although Marta, a constant menace to the opposition, did scrape the bar and also came close on other occasions. Then in injury time substitute Pretinha finished in style to give the South Americans the honour of being the only team to complete the group stage with a 100 per cent record.

So it is Marta against the Matildas in the next phase. Just one of four tasty encounters.