MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - The United States women’s soccer team clinched top spot in Group G after Abby Wambach’s 25th minute goal gave them a 1-0 win over North Korea and a 100 percent record at Old Trafford on Monday.
The three-time gold medal winners are on nine points, having also beaten France and Colombia, and will play on Friday against New Zealand, who took one of the two best third-placed berths.
”Abby scored a great goal, which feels good for all of us,“ said U.S. coach Pia Sundhage. ”She has been playing well and just shows how important she is for the team.
“We got a chance to save some legs in the second half and we slowed down the game quite a bit and now we look forward to the quarter-final with a healthy, happy team.”
The U.S. victory at Manchester United’s stadium was far more comfortable than the final scoreline suggests.
Sundhage’s team, who had already clinched a place in the last eight, were rarely caused problems by a hard-working but tactically negative North Korea team.
The Koreans finished with three points and failed to qualify as one of the two third-placed teams with the best record.
The U.S. went close to opening the scoring in the fifth minute when Wambach and Carli Lloyd linked up well to put in Alex Morgan whose low shot was tipped around the post by North Korea keeper O Chang-ran.
The influential Wambach continued to stretch the North Korean defense and in the 15th minute she burst down the left flank and slipped the ball inside to Morgan, who turned sharply and fired a low shot against the post.
It was no surprise when that combination gave the Americans the advantage, Morgan bringing down a long ball into the area from Lloyd, turning well again and sliding a smart pass to Wambach who made no mistake.
From then on it was ‘game management’ mode from the U.S. while North Korea, who needed a draw to be sure of reaching the quarter-finals, frantically sought a way back into the game without ever throwing many players forward.
The North Koreans were reduced to 10 players in the 81st minute when Choe Mi Gyong was sent off for a second yellow card following a reckless challenge on Lauren Cheney.
The nearest North Korea came to getting a crucial equalizer was four minutes from the end of regulation time when Choe Un-Ju’s long-range effort dipped just over Hope Solo’s bar.
Writing by Simon Evans; editing by Ken Ferris