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North Korea scare US as Japan scramble late equaliser in women´s World Cup

12 September 2007 00:45

CHENGDU, China (AFP) - North Korea gave the United States a wake-up call Tuesday in a 2-2 draw as Japan scored a last gasp equaliser to share the spoils with England in their opening women's World Cup games.

In the night's other match, 2003 runner-ups Sweden drew 1-1 with African champions Nigeria.

The Koreans were 2-1 up with just over 20 minutes to play before two-time champions the United States scrambled an equaliser to ensure they took a point in what is considered the toughest group of the tournament.

Fortunately for them, Sweden also drew their match in Group B, failing for a fifth consecutive time to win their opening game at a World Cup.

The United States and Sweden now face a crunch tie on Friday, with North Korea taking on Nigeria on the same day.

The Americans were early favourites to win their third World Cup title over defending champions Germany but they were clearly rattled by North Korea, who have never reached the knockout stages before.

"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, the Koreans dominated the first half, but it was the United States who came out firing in the second period.

Abby Wambach made the breakthrough in the 50th minute, chesting the ball down before firing her shot past 'keeper Jon Myong Hui.

Disaster though struck just minutes later when Wambach left the ground with a cut to her head.

North Korea took advantage with Kil Son Hui launching a thunderous shot that sailed over the head of goalkeeper Hope Solo for the equaliser. Kim Yong Ae smashed a second four minutes later, leaving the US reeling.

But Wambach came back on two minutes later and the tide began to turn with Heather O'Reilly ensuring they shared the points with a 69th minute strike.

North Korean coach Kim Kwang Min said he was "satisfied".

"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.

Sweden got their tournament off to a shaky start against Nigeria, also in Chengdu.

Captain Victoria Svensson did the damage for the European powerhouse in the 50th minute, but the Africans never gave up.

Cynthia Uwak, who plies her skills in Europe, made no mistake when Sweden failed to clear in the penalty area with eight minutes to go, firing into the net from close range.

Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby said he was disappointed.

"The first half we played very well, we had plenty of chances to score," hey said. "The first 15 to 20 minutes of the second half we also played very well but there were some problems in the last 15 to 30 minutes."

In a dramatic match in Shanghai, midfielder Kelly Smith scored two goals in the last 10 minutes for what looked like an English victory, only for Japan to spoil their party with just five seconds left.

They had Aya Miyama to thank for salvaging a 2-2 draw, stepping up as the seconds ticked down to smash a free-kick home from 30 metres.

"Obviously we are devastated," said Smith. "We came away with just one point but in my heart I think we deserved three."

The outcome of the match was crucial to deciding who would progress into the next round from Group A alongside Germany, who beat Argentina 11-0 on Monday.

The draw means that the group is still wide open.

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