In a Women’s World Cup so far devoid of high-scoring games — at least, perhaps, until Brazil opens Wednesday — the U.S. scored the first two-goal victory of the 16-nation tournament Tuesday when it shut out North Korea, 2-0, in Dresden, Germany.
Second-half goals by former UCLA standout Lauren Cheney and defender Rachel Buehler were more than enough to defeat a game but outclassed North Korean team in front of 21,859.
The North Koreans, in a bizarre explanation, blamed a lightning strike three weeks ago for the defeat.
Earlier in the day, Sweden, playing in the same four-team group, also made a positive beginning when it edged Colombia, 1-0. The results leave the two teams tied atop Group C with three points apiece, but with the U.S. in first place on goals scored.
After a scoreless first 45 minutes, Cheney’s goal broke the deadlock nine minutes into the second half. An astute pass from midfielder Carli Lloyd set forward Abby Wambach free down the left flank. Wambach took the ball to the end line, then reversed course and crossed perfectly for Cheney to head it into the North Korea net.
“I’m actually not a very good header,” Cheney said. “I just knew I wanted to redirect it back to the same place it came from.”
In the 77th minute, the American team, winner of the World Cup in 1991 and 1999, doubled its advantage after defender Ali Krieger sent a cross in that skimmed the crossbar. Lloyd wound up with the ball and sent it to Buehler, whose sliding shot found the back of the net.
There were also two close calls in the wide-open game in which the U.S. outshot North Korea, 19-13, including 12-7 in shots on target. North Korea’s Ye Gyong Ri skipped a shot off the top of the U.S. crossbar just seconds after Cheney’s goal, and Wambach had a shot slam into the Korean crossbar in the 65th minute.
North Korea Coach Kim Kwang-Min had an extraordinary explanation for the loss.
“When we stayed in Pyongyang during training, our players were hit by lightning, and more than five of them were hospitalized,” he told the BBC.
“Some stayed in hospital and then came to Germany later than the rest of us. The goalkeeper and four defenders were most affected, and some midfielders as well. The physicians said the players were not capable of participating in the tournament.
“The fact that they played could be called abnormal, the result of very strong will.”
The U.S. next plays Colombia on Saturday in Sinsheim, and Sweden plays North Korea in Augsburg.
In the earlier game, between Sweden and Colombia in front of 21,106 on a hot afternoon in Leverkusen, the Swedes were never in trouble but still managed only a 1-0 victory. Sweden outshot Colombia, which was making its World Cup debut, 13-8, but only six of the Swedish shots were on target.
The solitary goal, in the 57th minute, was scored by Jessica Landstrom, but only after some sparkling play by forward Lotta Schelin, who made her way down the right flank before delivering a low cross for Landstrom to redirect into the net.
“Yes, we could have won by a goal or two more, but … the important thing is that we secured three points,” Sweden Coach Thomas Dennerby said.
Colombia’s only two worthwhile offensive forays during the match both ended with shots by Carmen Rodallega going wide of the net. Despite the loss, Colombia Coach Ricardo Rozo remained optimistic. “We are still convinced that anything is possible in this group,” he said.
Colombia’s team was shaken earlier in the day when goalkeeper Yineth Varon was provisionally banned from the tournament after testing positive for unnamed banned substances.
Jones reported from Ross on Wye, England.