Tianjin duel could be decisive
© AFP

Eleven goals. That is how many Germany fired past Argentina, unanswered, in their first China 2007 game, a result which sounded the warning siren to the rest of the FIFA Women's World Cup field. There was no doubt that England, the next side to confront the defending champions, faced a tall order in attempting to nullify their opponents' resplendent, Birgit Prinz-led attack for a point they needed to control their own destiny.

Fortunately for the 'Three Lionesses', a heroic defensive performance helped them hold Silvia Neid's side to a goalless draw and leave themselves in a strong position to advance from Group A, which they managed courtesy of a 6-1 reverse of Argentina. At the heart of England's impregnable barricade against Germany was Faye White, whose towering performance befitted her six foot-tall frame.

"Faye was outstanding against Germany," opined Hope Powell. The England coach was not alone in her assessment. Greg Ryan, the man at the reins of a USA side that will go head-to-head with England for a semi-final place on Saturday, likens the Arsenal stopper to one of the finest defenders in the men's game. "She reminds me of a John Terry at the back," he said. "Faye's tall, she's great in the air, she's a leader. She defends well, she's got all the qualities that you like to see in an English centre-back. She's a very, very good player."

It is easy to see where Ryan is coming from. A captain at club and international level, White shares several of Terry's attributes: inspiring, imposing, dominant in the air and in the tackle, a great reader of the game and calm in possession. The 29-year-old has the perfect mixture of strength and elegance, as no less a legend than Prinz will attest.

Dominant force
But after excelling in her duel with the Germany No9 and helping England escape their pool without conceding a goal in open play, White must now turn her attentions to keeping quiet another striker whose place in the pantheon of women's football strikers is firmly cemented. Step forward Abby Wambach, the colossus whose explosive displays have powered her team through to the last eight.

"Abby has dominated pretty much the defence of every team we've played so far," said Ryan. "I think she has really come into her own and has the confidence to dominate. The Nigerians were very fast but Abby still had a dominating presence on the field. I think she's going to do very well in the match-up but I know that Faye is going to go out there and give it everything she's got and I know she will do very well too."

Worryingly for England fans, Wambach has a rich tradition of headlining crucial matches. Indeed, it was from her head that the only goal was posted against Norway the last time USA played in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Women's World Cup. She also scored an extra-time winner to sink Brazil in the final of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004.

The 27-year-old has carried this type of form on to Chinese turf, where three compelling displays and three goals helped the two-time champions collect seven points from a possible nine and march into the knockout phase. USA will enter their game against England as the favourites to book a semi-final place, not that Ryan is underestimating the challenge that lies in wait. "England have a great side - there's no doubt about this," he declared.

"They're just very well organised. Collectively they play both sides of the ball very well. They attack well, they defend well and they're good on their set-pieces. There's not a lot of chinks in the armour and that's a credit to their coaches, the staff, the players. The discipline you see in the players, that's a quality you associate with English teams - great discipline and organisation - and you see that very clearly in this team."

These qualities, explained England goalkeeper Rachel Brown, are the product of sheer hard work on the training ground. "In the first five, six, seven years of Hope Powell becoming manager she has concentrated on the defensive elements and getting us as a solid unit where we have become renowned for not conceding goals." And at the heart of that unit is White for whom a duel beckons that could well determine the outcome of Saturday's contest.

It is a duel between two of the tournament's most impressive performers to date, but only time will tell whether it will be Wambach or White who leaves the Tianjin Center Stadium with a giant smile on her face.