THE DAY REPLAYED - FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter had just paid tribute to the progress of the women's game and as if to emphasise the point, China 2007 gave us a stunning demonstration from a team, Brazil, who had never before reached the world final. In getting there they toppled one of the superpowers of women's football USA, who had been eyeing a third final appearance against the holders Germany.
That won't happen now thanks to a Samba spectacular in Hangzhou. Brazil 4-0 USA was a scoreline no one would have predicted, a savage dismantling of the world's number one ensemble, only their third loss in the FIFA Women's World Cup and their heaviest ever, at any level. It was one of the most sensational results in the history of the competition and it leaves the jubilant South Americans to contemplate a denouement with the formidable Germans who 24 hours before had inflicted their own punishment on Norway.
|USA - Brazil|
On the final whistle the brilliant Marta looked to the heavens as ecstatic team-mates rushed to acclaim one of the great individual displays. China has been celebrating its Mid-Autumn Festival, a time when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Had someone flicked a switch, though, and plunged the Hangzhou Dragon Stadium into darkness, the 21-year-old would still have been illuminated. She is a true star.
What a contrast in emotions there was with the American camp where a China crisis loomed the minute coach Greg Ryan decided to replace regular goalkeeper Hope Solo with Briana Scurry because dealing with long-range shots and reflex saves "she's the best I've seen". Hindsight confers advantages of course, but Ryan may now reflect on the wisdom of flouting one of football's truisms: "Never change a winning team".
It would be unfair to blame the opening goal, an own goal, on that decision. And while Scurry may feel she could have got more than a hand to goal number two, from Marta, it soon seemed like America needed two goalkeepers to keep the Canarinha at bay. And certainly more than nine outfield players, which is what they were left with once their midfield enforcer Shannon Boxx had been ordered off shortly before the break.
Cristiane struck a third but the game's finest moment was still to come. Frame by frame, the fourth Brazil goal showcased the best of the elusive Marta: flicking the ball behind herself, she turned and twisted past her marker, left another defender in her wake, and completed the assault with a crisp right-footed finish. The crowd were quick to pay homage. "Marta, Marta" reverberated around the stadium.
Germany were also given a leg up by an own goal but the match in Tianjin was a tighter affair with the title-holders only permitted time to relax once Kerstin Stegemann and Martina Mueller had scored in the 72nd and 75th minutes. The unstoppable running machine that is Birgit Prinz had induced the early error by Trine Ronning, who turned the ball end into her own net, and it was the Germany captain who made the opportunity for Stegemann with another typical driving run.
So now the charabanc rolls back into Shanghai for the final. Will Prinz continue to reign supreme backed up by a defence that has not yielded a single goal in five games, or is this Marta's time? It will be fascinating to discover the answers in three days' time.