The quarter-final showdown between familiar foes China and
Norway in Wuhan on Sunday will be the sides' 22nd meeting in
their history. Regardless of past form, the tie promises to be an
evenly matched encounter, so both teams will be hoping for a lucky
break to tip the balance in their favour.
Norway-China, Wuhan, Sunday 23 September, 17:00 (local time)
Despite the hosts' thorough preparations for this year's FIFA Women's World Cup, including the appointment of Marika Domanski-Lyfors as their first ever foreign coach, China PR did not stroll through to the last eight. A 4-0 loss to Brazil signalled the end of the honeymoon for the Swedish trainer and her team, who are yet to find their form in front of goal.
By contrast, Norway sailed through the group phase, collecting seven points on their way to clinching top spot in Group C. Even more ominously for hosts China, the Europeans were in free-scoring mode against Ghana, sealing their progression with a 7-2 victory. Nevertheless, the advantage of home support can never be underestimated and the Steel Roses will be aiming to make their '12th man' count on Sunday.
These rivals have met on 21 occasions and Norway have the edge with 11 wins to China's seven, the other three matches ending in draws. Curiously enough, a number of their previous meetings have been somewhat one-sided affairs. Although Norway triumphed 4-1 in the Algarve Cup in 1996, China claimed victory in the teams' two previous FIFA Women's World Cup encounters. They defeated the Scandinavians 4-0 on home soil in the opening match of the inaugural event in 1991, before securing a 5-0 victory in the semi-final of USA 1999. However, Norway were narrow 1-0 winners when they last met at the Algarve Cup in 2006.
Led by seasoned striker Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, Norway qualified unbeaten from the group stage with two wins and one draw, and were one of the most eye-catching teams in the first phase. Gulbrandsen's hat-trick against Ghana took her to the top of the scoring chart with five goals and the performance of the 30-year-old centre-forward, who was named in the FIFA All Star Team at the 2003 finals, could be crucial to Norway's chances of success.
Meanwhile in the China camp, another USA 2003 veteran will be
handed a pivotal role in Sunday's match. Team captain Li Jie,
who has already contributed two vital goals from defence in the
first phase of the tournament, will be tasked with keeping the
Norway forward line at arm's length. Neither team is hampered
by injury or suspension concerns.
It's very important that we improve for this match. Although we beat Ghana convincingly, we gave them too many chances and we cannot afford to do that in the quarter-finals. China are well organised and work very hard but we are still confident in our chances - Bjarne Berntsen, Norway coach
China beat Norway 5-0 in their last World Cup meeting, but
that's all in the past and the two teams have changed a lot
since then. I faced Norway on numerous occasions when I was in
charge of the Swedish national team. I have a very good
understanding of their team, so I know what it takes to break them
Marika Domanski-Lyfors, China coach
So far, Australia have been the toughest team we have faced but we know that we are going on to another level in the quarter-finals. It's going to be a lot harder because we are one step closer to the final and, at this stage, the teams are all strong and willing to sacrifice a lot. China will certainly be tough, especially as hosts. But we are ready and I think there is a fair chance of us beating them - Ragnhild Gulbrandsen, Norway striker