Behind Wambach's goal, U.S. blanks North Korea, wins Olympics Group G.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, July 31, 2012) -- The United States women finished atop of the Summer Olympics Group G with a 3-0 record with a 1-0 victory over North Korea in a light, chilly rain before 29,522 tonight at Old Trafford in Manchester, England.
The match went pretty much the way the U.S. wanted. It won and did so while expending a minimum amount of effort, moving into a quarterfinal match Friday against New Zealand, the third-place finisher from Group E. The game will be played at St. James' Park in Newcastle, England, at 9:30 (a.m.) ET and televised by NBC Sports Network.
The Americans got off to a fast start and put North Korea under immediate heavy pressure. They advanced the ball well with multiple passes and almost scored in the 15th minute when Abby Wambach squared a ball to fellow striker Alex Morgan at the top of the penalty area. Morgan fired a hard shot that struck a post.
Ten minutes later, Morgan entered the box and slipped a pass to Wambach, who beat an attempted offside trap and slotted her shot into an open net for a 1-0 lead.
"Abby scored a great goal, which feels good for all of us," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "She's 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 quarterfinal with a healthy, happy team."
The U.S. dominated the rest of the match, allowing the Koreans few chances and none of any quality. The Americans held an 8-0 edge in shots on goal.
North Korea went a player down in the 81st minute when second-half substitute Choe Mi Gyong was sent off after her second yellow card within five minutes.
While the score remained 1-0, the match was not a nail-biter by any means. The Americans coasted along with most of the possession and had several golden chances, but could not get a second goal.
At the same time, North Korea, needing only a draw to possibly advance to the quarterfinals, really did not press forward. The Koreans continued to clog the midfield and continually went to ground to break up the U.S. passes. Many times, they had eight, nine or 10 players behind the ball, even while a goal down and with time ticking away.
The only sustained Korean threat came in a three-minute stretch midway through the second half when American goalkeeper Hope Solo twice grabbed balls sent into the box.
Sundhage named the same lineup that beat Colombia 3-0 on Saturday. A mild surprise was Tobin Heath starting on the bench with Heather O'Reilly again getting the starting nod in midfield. Heath came on at halftime when Sundhage rested Megan Rapinoe.
If the U.S. has any worry, it might be not getting better final touches in the attacking third, as well as triggering more dangerous shots.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 7: Another match she had little to do, needing to make no saves. She was ready the few times she was called upon, which was all that could be asked of her.
Defender Amy LePeilbet - 6.5: Her passing out of the back might not be the best, but she is a solid defender, especially one-on-one, and made few, if any missteps.
Defender Christie Rampone - 6.5: Made good passes from the rear and exhibited good pace when it was needed.
Defender Rachel Buehler - 6.5: Has been criticized, but played very well today and very physically against opponents who tried to push her out of the way.
Defender Kelley O'Hara - 6.5: A solid match defensively and she managed to get forward from time to time to join the attack.
Midfielder Heather O'Reilly - 6: Made some accurate passes that could have resulted in goals. Tracked back well to lend a hand on defense. A good, but not great outing.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 5.5: Missed a golden chance she should have finished. More than most, she seemed to tire over 90 minutes. At best, a somewhat mixed performance.
Midfielder Lauren Cheney - 5.5: Took the brunt of the North Korea's physical play and never really was able to get on track, but her key chip led to the U.S. goal.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe - 6: She did not play as well as she did against Colombia. She looked tired and, while she was good on set pieces, she was less so in the run of play. Earned some rest when taken off at the half.
Forward Alex Morgan - 5.5: Not a bad game, but the U.S. will need more out of her going forward. Ran well, created chances, but was not definitive in going for goal.
Forward Abby Wambach - 7.5: As is often the case, she was the best American. Her goal might not have taken much effort, but she was able to get herself open numerous times, despite two, and at times three, defenders hanging on her.
Midfielder Tobin Heath (46th minute for Rapinoe) - 5.5: She started out wide and played to good effect, creating several chances. Then, moved to the crowded middle where she and the U.S. offense bogged down.
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn (75th minute for Buehler) - 7: When she appears as a sub, she makes a strong case for a starting role. Made a key clearance in the late going and was composed in the face of pressure.
Midfielder Amy Rodriguez (84th minute for Cheney) - 5.5: Came on with a high work rate, but with little to show for it. Did help to see the match to its conclusion.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Abby Wambach.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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