THE DAY REPLAYED - When Norway left the field in Wuhan, weary with effort but jubilant at their quarter-final victory over China PR, the mantra on their return to the dressing room might well have been: "Remember 2005." Similarly, three hours later as Brazil left the scene of their win over Australia in Tianjin the cry would have gone up: "Let's make up for 2004."
The two teams who completed the semi-final quartet at the FIFA Women's World Cup have plenty of incentive to go that vital step further and reach the final a week tonight. Norway, who now face Germany, would dearly love to make up for their defeat by the same opponents in the UEFA Women's Championship final of two years ago. Brazil, meanwhile, have to go back a further 12 months for their special motivation to put one over USA now. It was the Americans who beat them to the gold medal at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Athens.
Brazil's first quarter-final in this competition came in 1999 and a remarkable affair unravelled. Having taken a comfortable 2-0 lead with goals after four and 22 minutes against Nigeria and then extended that to 3-0, they allowed the Africans back into the contest. The game went to extra time before the South Americans edged through 4-3.
Here a similar pattern was sketched out on the green carpet with goals in the fourth and 23rd minutes giving Jorge Barcellos' team a healthy advantage, the second a penalty from Marta that put her on five goals for the tournament. But Australia's progress has been characterised by unquenchable spirit and determination and they can never be written off. Remember, they had not won a FIFA Women's World Cup match in nine previous attempts prior to China 2007 but at this event they have always risen quickly off the canvas to hit back. Sure enough by the 68th minute they were level.
Inevitably Lisa De Vanna was at the heart of the comeback with
her fourth goal in four games - and her first as a starter - before
a sublime header from Lauren Colthorpe made it 2-2. For Brazil
goalkeeper Andreia these were the first goals she had conceded in
China, ending her sequence of 881 minutes unbeaten in the
Seleção goal. Yet these Brazilians possess enough
individual talent to pluck a matchwinner from the most unpromising
situations. That was the case when Cristiane conjured a little
piece of magic - following a neat shuffle with a precise
right-footed finish - and turned the Tianjin skyline yellow.
In contrast, the earlier quarter-final in Wuhan became a stage for the lesser lights to shine. With Norwegian eyes trained on Ragnhild Gulbrandsen after she surged to the top of the scoring charts with her hat-trick against Ghana and Chinese hopes falling on the prodigious Ma Xiaoxu, up stepped teenager Isabell Herlovsen to win the game and secure revenge for China's two heavy victories when the sides met in 1991 and again in the 1999 semi-final.
Herlovsen was a surprise starter, considering she had seen only 45 minutes' action previously in the tournament, but she was totally switched on, unlike her Chinese opponent, in the 32nd minute to be first to a cross and bundle the ball home. It was a goal that momentarily stunned the home crowd who, with whistles and drums, otherwise maintained a constant wall of noise to spur their team on. Only a marvellous save from Zhang Yanru, tipping Ingvild Stensland's piledriver on to the woodwork early in the second half, kept the contest alive until the final whistle but the host nation can feel proud of their efforts and better days surely lie ahead for Marika Domanski-Lyfors and her young squad.