Russia made sure its first Women's World Cup was a success today. Canada simply made plans to go home.
With a 4-1 victory at Giants Stadium, surprising Russia qualified for the quarterfinals, finishing second in Group C. Russia will play China as part of a Wednesday doubleheader in San Jose. Canada, meanwhile, finished its second World Cup with the same victory total -- zero. Canada is 0-4-2 in its two Cup appearances, having been outscored 25-8. Players have complained that their six weeks of pre-Cup training was not enough, and today some said they had been told the national team program would disband until 2003 Cup qualification unless it made the eight-team field for next year's Olympics (it didn't).
"I hope the program doesn't take 10 steps back," Canada midfielder Charmaine Hooper said. "We can't take two or three years off and still compete at this level. I think since the last World Cup, the U.S. has played 100 games. We've only played 10."
A crowd of 29,401 witnessed the game, the first half of a doubleheader with China-Australia following. It was the Women's World Cup's best attendance for a game not involving the United States.
A victory today would have put Canada (0-2-1) in the quarterfinals instead of Russia (2-1). In a scoreless first half, Canada looked more than capable of winning, too. The Canadians dominated the midfield and created the majority of the half's scoring chances; Russia's starters were sluggish and the reserves weren't even on the bench. Presumably they were in a cool locker room instead of on the field, where it was 88 degrees and humid at kickoff.
"Indeed, our number one opponent was the heat," said Coach Yurii Bystritskii, whose players compete in a domestic league that features indoor play.
Russia seemed to be a different team after halftime, however. Natalia Barbachina was stuffed at point-blank range by Canada goalkeeper Nicci Wright in the 47th minute; Irina Grigorieva had a free kick chance just outside of the box in the 49th minute; and Galina Komarova got free but shot high in the 50th.
Grigorieva finally cashed in on a Russian chance in the 54th minute. The captain and playmaking midfielder cut through the middle and fired a shot from about 22 yards. It tucked under the crossbar and Russia took a 1-0 lead.
"We had our chances as well as they had their chances," said Canada forward Silvana Burtini, who usually starts but came on in the 55th minute after missing Wednesday's loss to Norway with a left hamstring injury. "They took their opportunities and put them in the back of the net."
Substitute Elena Fomina scored the first of her two goals in the 66th minute to make it 2-0, again on a shot from outside the box. Hooper cut Russia's lead in half with a header in the 76th minute, but Fomina put away the game 10 minutes later, blasting in a cross from Olga Letuchova.
Olga Karasseva put the final touches on the victory, scoring a goal off a corner kick in extra time.
CHINA 3, AUSTRALIA 1: First, Sun Wen hit the goal post and missed in the 33rd minute. Six minutes later, the Chinese star forward hit the post and scored. Six minutes after halftime, she struck again -- no goal post required -- and China was on its way to clinching first place in Group D and eliminating Australia.
Before the match started, China had secured a spot in the quarterfinals, and Australia knew it needed to win and get unlikely help from Ghana to advance. In the second minute, things became more difficult for the Matildas when forward Alicia Ferguson was sent off for a tackle from behind.
"Even though we had 10 [players], we had the same number of defenders and the same number of midfielders," Australia Coach Greg Brown said. "We should have defended better than we did."
China (3-0) will play Russia, the Group C runner-up, in a Wednesday quarterfinal in San Jose. China used all its regulars but missed some easy opportunities and occasionally surprised on defense. Julie Murray had two breakaway chances for Australia (0-2-1) and Cheryl Salisbury scored on a left-footed shot, making it 2-1 in the 66th minute.
"I'm sorry to disappoint the Americans in the crowd, but [in terms of technical skill] China is the best team in the tournament," Brown said. "I still favor them to make the final and possibly win it."
CAPTION: Headed for the quarterfinals, Russian teammates flank Irina Grigorieva (8) to celebrate their 4-1 win over Canada.