CHENGDU, China -- For those who thought the U.S.-North Korea
matchup might be the best of the women's World Cup, they weren't
The United States rallied for a 2-2 draw Tuesday, with Heather
O'Reilly scoring in the 69th minute in the Group B opener for both
It was end-to-end action in front of an enthusiastic crowd of
35,000. It was counterattacking. And it was the two quickest teams
in the world facing each other: the top-ranked Americans against
the best team in Asia.
"I hope you enjoyed the game as much as I did," U.S. coach
Greg Ryan said. "It was two great teams. North Korea is a
"There were chances for the U.S. to win and for North Korea to
win," Ryan added. "We knew what a difficult group this would be --
and it is proving to be very difficult."
The Koreans scored twice while the U.S. was a player short for
several minutes in the second half, before O'Reilly tied the match
with a shot from about 10 yards into the top corner of the net.
The United States extended its unbeaten streak to 47 games
spanning 2½ years under Ryan.
Played in a light rain at Chengdu Sports Center Stadium, the
match had the feel of a final rather than a group-play opener. The
final of the 16-team tournament is Sept. 30 in Shanghai.
Abby Wambach gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 50th minute with a
long-range shot that goalkeeper Jon Myong-hui got her gloves to but
was only able to deflect into the net.
Minutes later, Wambach knocked heads with another player in a
scramble around the goal and left the field with blood pouring from
her face, leaving the Americans with 10 players.
North Korea scored twice in her absence. Ryan made a decision
not to replace her, which he almost regretted.
"It was a very tough call," he said. "The doctor said they
could get her back within just a few minutes. Abby is such an
important player to this team. I thought we could withstand playing
11 against 10.
"I'm just glad we got that last one after giving up the two."
Kil Son-hui benefited from a goalkeeping error, as Hope Solo let
a long shot slip through her hands in the wet conditions in the
58th minute. In the 62nd, Kim Yong-ae pounced on a rebound and shot
it past Solo.
Wambach returned in the 65th minute, and her return seemed to
calm things for the Americans. O'Reilly scored minutes later with a
clever shot using the outside of her boot.
"The U.S. is the best in the world, but today they didn't
perform to their maximum," North Korean coach Kim Kwang-min said.
"This gave us a chance to see our level, and if we meet the
Americans a next time we will have the tactics to beat the
Americans. We are marching toward the target of a world title."
Group B is the toughest in the World Cup with third-ranked
Sweden and African champions Nigeria also playing for a spot in the
quarterfinals. The Americans face Sweden on Friday and North Korea
Despite its poise, the U.S. looked unnerved at times. North
Korea pressed the Americans in the first half like few teams have.
Keeping the ball on the slick turf, Ri Kum-suk lashed several
shots just wide of Solo. Kim Yong-ae and Kim Kyong-hwa joined Ri,
putting a half dozen more shots on goal that required saves.
North Korea always counterattacked, seldom waiting for a slow
buildup. The Americans had trouble keeping possession, but still
managed threats in spurts. They looked dangerous on several corners
and free kicks. In open play, Lori Chalupny and O'Reilly tested Jon
twice early in the game, and long crosses in from Cat Whitehill
tensed up the Korean defense.
The best chance for the United States -- maybe the best for
either team in the first half -- came in the 40th minute. Off a
corner kick from Stephanie Lopez, Wambach's header went off the
crossbar behind Jon and dropped inches in front of the goal before
it was cleared.