A wet field and steady rain made playing conditions difficult as the top-ranked United States and North Korea played at the Women's World Cup in China. But as VOA's Jim Stevenson reports from Chengdu, it was a coaching decision that may have cost the Americans a win.
With FIFA president Sepp Blatter in attendance, the first half was scoreless and statistically balanced. The wet field did not disrupt the Americans' crisp passing while the North Koreans displayed energy and speed.
The second half opened with a U.S. score by Abby Wambach in the 50th minute. But five minutes later she was hit hard in the head. U.S. coach Greg Ryan decided not to replace her as Wambach departed to receive stitches. He chose instead to wait for Wambach's return while playing the North Koreans one player short.
During that time, a quick pair of goals by Kil Son-hui and substitute Kim Yong-ae gave North Korea the lead.
Wambach returned to the lineup, and she helped spark the tying goal by Heather O'Reilly. Ryan talks about his decision not to replace his injured star forward. "It was a very tough call. The doctors said they could get her back in within just a few minutes. Abby is such an important player to this team. I thought we could withstand playing 11 against 10. North Korea is a great team. But the two goals we gave up I do not think were great goals. I think they were goals we could have stopped," he said.
Through an interpreter, North Korean coach Kim Kwan Min says he learned a lot from playing the U.S. women. "As for the first match for my team, it provides us with a very good chance first of all to know what is the exact criteria level (skill level) for winning FIFA's World Cup. Secondly by playing this match, we will know how to adjust our team and prepare better for upcoming games," he said.
In other action, Swedish captain Victoria Svensson and Nigerian forward Cynthia Uwak netted second-half goals as Sweden and Nigeria tied, 1-1. The result means Group-B is deadlocked with each team collecting one point from the opening games.
In Shanghai, England played Japan to a 2-2 draw in Group-A. Defending champion Germany leads that group after setting a Women's World Cup single-game scoring record Monday in an 11-0 rout against Argentina.