For the first two weeks of the Women's World Cup, the talk was about American Mia Hamm's grace, Brazilian Sissi's elegance, Germany's composure, Nigeria's potential and Norway's fortitude.
But in a breathtaking 90 minutes Sunday evening at Foxboro Stadium, the international soccer spotlight took a sudden turn toward China.
The fact that the Chinese defeated defending champion Norway in the semifinals was not a surprise; China has been on the verge of supremacy for several years. However, the manner in which they did it, with a 5-0 pounding that could have been much worse, left some to reconsider whom to make the favorite in Saturday's championship match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.
"There's no doubt that China will be the favorite in the final," Norway Coach Per-Mathias Hogmo said. "But they'll meet a very enthusiastic American team. It's going to be a very interesting final."
Asked whom he would bet on, Hogmo laughed and said: "I would put $100 on both teams."
Norway, which had cruised through the first round and quarterfinals with few scars, had no answers for China's speed and ball control -- elements the United States must harness if it is to have a chance of winning the tournament for the second time.
But as effective as China was possessing the ball and attacking Sunday, it was most efficient in dead-ball situations. Following the first goal, which came at the end of a crisp rush sparked by midfielder Liu Ailing, the Chinese scored off two corner kicks, a free kick and a penalty kick.
Midfielder Liu Ying delivered the corner kicks, forward Sun Wen served the free kick and Sun buried the penalty kick to inflict the final strike against the beleaguered Norwegians.
"For this to happen four times, it is not right," Hogmo said. "It caused us great problems for the whole game."
China's style emphasizes quick ball movement and a symphonic motion in which every player seems comfortable with possession no matter where she is on the field, similar to the legendary Dutch men's teams led by Johan Cruyff of the 1970s.
One moment Sun is a danger in the penalty area, the next she's orchestrating the attack from a deep position. Midfielder Zhao Lihong makes things happen up and down the left flank and Liu distributes the ball effectively and is a lethal scorer. On Sunday she scored with a pair of wicked volleys, one with each foot.
"I usually play with my right foot," Liu said shyly, "but my left is actually not bad." (That "not bad" foot propelled a loose ball into the top of the net from 15 yards early in the second half for the second of her two astonishing goals.)
About the team's chemistry, Liu added: "The solidarity of the team, the united effort, the team spirit and teamwork are the most motivating factors to our success so far."
With her skills, Sun is China's greatest impact player. Her two goals Sunday raised her total to seven, tying her with Sissi, the midfielder from Brazil, and five more than Hamm, the pre-tournament darling.
"I never thought about [all the goals] at all," Sun said. "My concentration is on the team."
China also has Gao Hong, a superstar in goal. She is considered the best in the world but with few tests in the Women's World Cup, she has been unable to fully demonstrate why. Sunday's victory already was secure when Gao made a couple of diving saves.
Despite his team's semifinal display, China Coach Ma Yuanan said he thought his team's performance was lacking at times.
"After the lead was 2-0, we were still making constant errors and mistakes," he said. "According to my standard, the errors should be reduced. In the first half, there were two opportunities we didn't maximize. If we had done it correctly, the game would have been easier."
As for inheriting the role of favorite, Ma responded: "One step at a time and one game at a time. That's what we're planning for."