CHENGDU, China (AFP) - The United States were forced to fight back against a ferocious North Korea to ensure a 2-2 draw in their World Cup opener here Tuesday.
The Americans, ranked number one in the world, had been early favourites to win their third World Cup title over defending champions Germany.
But they were clearly rattled by the Asian number ones, who have never reached the knockout stages of a World Cup.
After scoring the first goal, the Americans, who also have two Olympic gold medals, were reduced to 10 players and forced onto the back foot, going 2-1 down before rallying to secure a point.
"I'm very proud of my players especially to come back in the game after giving up two goals when we were a man down, I'm very proud of the way we came back," US coach Greg Ryan said.
Playing in front of a 35,000-strong crowd in drizzling rain, North Korea dominated the first half, with fast and furious attacks on goal that ran the American defence ragged.
But the Americans came out firing in the second half with formidable captain Kristine Lilly picking out Abby Wambach who chested the ball down before firing her shot through 'keeper Jon Myong Hui's hands in the 50th minute.
But disaster struck just minutes later, when Wambach came off second best in an aerial battle in the box and left the ground, her head bleeding.
North Korea pounced with forward Kil Son Hui launching a thunderous kick from just outside the box that sailed over the head of outstretched goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Kim Yong Ae left the Americans shellshocked in the 62nd by striking a volley to give them the lead.
Wambach came back on two minutes later and immediately tried to rally her teammates with screams of encouragement.
The US took heed, and launched another attack with forward Heather O'Reilly taking advantage of two North Korean deflections to rifle a shot into the net to equalise in the 69th minute.
Ryan conceded it was a risky move to play with 10 instead of opting to replace Wambach.
"It was a very tough call to make," he said.
"The doctors said they could get her back in just a few minutes. Abby is such an important player to this team, I thought we could withstand playing 11 against 10."
He said it was the right decision in the end and reiterated that the United States, who won the World Cup in 1991 and 1999, have tough tasks ahead to reach the finals here.
"North Korea is a great team but I don't think the goals we gave up were such great goals," he said.
North Korean coach Kim Kwang Min said he was "satisfied" with his team's performance and his young charges were on track after their draw.
"I think the US team is the best team in the world but today they did not perform to the maximum that they can," he said.
North Korea are ranked fifth in the world and won their first-ever major football title last year at the Under-20 World Cup in Moscow.
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