For years an afterthought in a country where men’s football is treated like a religion — the men are four-time World Cup winners — the form of Italy’s women has been impossible to ignore. Le Azzurre topped a group which contained Australia and Brazil — two teams ranked inside the world’s top 10 — and has now disposed of former finalist China.
The Italians started brightly with Valentina Giancinti, the highest scorer in Italy’s top division last season, particularly impressing on a summery evening in Montpellier. She had one effort disallowed for offside and took another aim at distance before eventually finding the back of the net, pouncing from close range after goalkeeper Peng Shimeng Elisa Bartoli’s shot into the striker’s path.
China, which has only once failed to progress to the last eight prior to this match, grew into the match as the first half progressed. Wang Yan forced a fine save from Laura Giuliani while the Steel Roses also hit the woodwork before the break, though replays showed a goal would have been disallowed for offside.
But in the 49th minute substitute Aurora Galli doubled the advantage with a shot from the edge of the box, her fourth goal in five appearances, to secure a meeting with either the Netherlands or Japan.
China edged possession and completed nearly double the number of passes than its opponent but again scoring proved to be a problem — the Steel Roses only found the net once in France.