DRESDEN, Germany » Once, twice, three times and then a fourth, Lauren Cheney launched a shot with her foot only to watch it go right into the hands of the North Korean goalkeeper.
Finally, she used her head. And just like that, the Americans looked like a team that could contend for a third Women’s World Cup title.
“I wasn’t frustrated,” said Cheney, whose goal in the 54th minute sparked a 2-0 win over North Korea on Tuesday. “I knew if I kept going, I’d get one.”
The Americans now face Colombia, which lost 1-0 to Sweden, on Saturday in Sinsheim.
The young North Koreans — only two had played in a World Cup before — looked pretty good in the first half. The Americans started the game strong, controlling play with crisp passing and good speed. But the North Koreans gained confidence as time went on, shutting down the U.S. attack in the midfield and repeatedly pushing forward in the closing minutes before halftime.
Kim Su Gyong took a shot from close range in the 34th minute, but U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo punched it away. Four minutes later, Song Jung Sun slid a shot right in front of the goal that Solo couldn’t reach. No other Americans were there to clear it away — neither were the North Koreans — and Ali Krieger finally booted the ball to safety.
“The opening to any game, emotions are going to be flying, players are going to be flying, it’s going to be ugly sometimes,” Solo said. “It was a little sloppy at the beginning, but we weathered the storm.”
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage told her players at halftime to take the ball outside and make more use of the flanks. The improvement was clear immediately.
Cheney, making her first start since March, had two shots caught by goalkeeper Hong Myong Hui in the first 5 minutes of the half. In the 51st minute, Abby Wambach took a sliding shot from the edge of the 6-yard box, only to watch the ball sail over the net.
Finally, in the 54th, Wambach dribbled quickly up the left flank and took a step as if to move inside, spinning a North Korean defender around. Wambach dribbled a few more steps before chipping in a perfect cross that Cheney nodded past Hong.
“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.”
It was Cheney’s 14th goal in her 40th appearance for the United States.
“When Lauren scored that goal, it’s obviously kind of like the monkey off your back,” Wambach said.
The Americans practically camped themselves on North Korea’s side of the field, with Wambach hitting the crossbar in the 65th and Amy Rodriguez putting a shot wide in the 73rd before Rachel Buehler scored the insurance goal in the 76th minute. A shot off the crossbar ricocheted back into the scrum and Carli Lloyd collected the ball and headed it to Buehler, who unleashed a monster strike with her right foot.
It was the second goal of the defender’s career.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to build confidence off this win,” Buehler said.