The United States Women's Soccer team is on the verge of advancing to the quarterfinal round of the Women's World Cup tournament. But the defending champions will need to get past an unpredictable North Korean team Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
The U.S. women are seeking a tie or a win in their third and final game of the opening round in order to advance. Victories over Sweden (3-1) and Nigeria (5-0) have led the United States to the only undefeated record in Group-A. The last hurdle is North Korea, a team the U.S. squad also faced in the first round of the 1999 World Cup (winning 3-0).
The rest of the world has seen little of North Korea since the last World Cup. Despite winning the 2001 and 2003 Asian titles and the 2002 Asian Games, the team remains virtually unknown, even to most in Asia. U.S. coach April Heinrichs says that has made preparation for this game a challenge.
"North Korea is a team we know very little about," she explained. "And we have not seen in many years. And when ever you are playing a team that is an unknown, it is a little bit more concerning."
But the United States coaching staff has had the opportunity to watch North Korea play its first two games of the tournament, scoring a 3-0 win over Nigeria and losing a close one-goal decision to Sweden. And Heinrichs knows North Korea has the ability to surprise world class teams.
"North Korea beating China twice in their confederation tournament, in their World Cup qualifying tournament, is the equivalent of Canada or any other CONCACAF team beating the United States twice. It is pretty impressive," she admitted.
Speed is an asset the North Koreans try to exploit. They tend to play a conservative game and suddenly strike with quick bursts, with Jin Pyol Hui leading the way, or teammate Ri Kum-suk, who scored 15 goals in the 2003 Asian Championship.