WUHAN: China failed to qualify for the semifinals of the Women's Soccer World Cup after a narrow 1-0 loss to Norway yesterday - but the "Steel Roses'" exit from the big stage is not all doom and gloom.
China's Bi Yan reacts after missing a goal during the quarter-final soccer match in the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup against Norway at the Wuhan Sports Centre Stadium September 23, 2007. [Reuters]
A costly mistake from defender Wang Kun in the first half cost the tournament host a spot in the final four despite outplaying the higher-ranked Norwegians for much of the match.
China's 28 scoring chances compared to Norway's eight do not reflect the final score.
"I am very sad for the girls," said China's emotional head coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors.
"They did what they could do in the game. They played really a very good game.
"Norway had just one good shooting chance in the first half and that was the goal.
"We did not take the opportunities to get the goal and that's why we did not make the semifinals."
Norwegian striker Isabell Herlovsen capitalized on Wang's blunder in the penalty area in the 32nd-minute.
The teenager rifled a left-foot shot into the roof of the net to help Norway scrape through to a meeting with Germany.
Domanski-Lyfors insisted China was the better team but Norway more efficient.
"We did very well technically and tactically," she said.
"Norway is one of the best teams in the world but we sometimes outplayed them and we had more chances. It's clear which team was the best tonight.
"But Norway is really a good team and they took the opportunity."
Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen admitted his team was lucky to bag the win.
"It was a very tough match," he said.
"China changed their way of playing, playing one up front for the first time this tournament, and that showed a great deal of respect for us.
"Marika (Domanski-Lyfors) knows us very well and she knows the best way to stop our play.
"The game was very tight and we only won because their defender made a mistake and our striker was extremely quick to react.
"A lot of big games are won and lost like that."
The two sides fought for control in the midfield well into the match and no serious chances were created until the ninth minute.
Teenage striker Ma Xiaxu, dubbed the female Wayne Rooney, was wide open at the edge of the penalty area but volleyed just over the bar to finish her campaign fruitless.
Ma's partner Han Duan also tested Norway's goalkeeper Bente Nordby 13 minutes in.
Norway responded three minutes later with what turned out to be a wayward free kick.
The determined host almost took the lead in the 23rd minute when captain Bi Yan's angled shot was brilliantly saved by Nordby.
The goal drought also continued for Han, China's leading scorer in lead-up games whose header beat the goalkeeper only to just miss the target.
Herlovsen did not squander the penalty for Wang Kun's defensive blunder in the 32nd minute, blasting the ball past the goalkeeper.
China tried to equalize before the interval and fired four successive shots in the final minute.
Norway began to use its physical advantages in the second half and nearly doubled its tally seven minutes in.
It launched a successful counter-attack in the midfield only for Ane Stangeland Horpestad's curving shot to hit the crossbar.