CHENGDU, China (AFP) - Dynamic United States forward Abby Wambach fingered North Korea as the danger team of the women's World Cup after the Americans escaped with a 2-2 draw against the Asian number ones.
Wambach conceded the US were at times outgunned by the North Koreans in Tuesday's Group B opener, a match she described as one of the toughest of her career.
The statement packs a punch considering Wambach was playing in her 95th international and the US, the world's number one team, have not lost a match in regulation time in more than two years.
"North Korea are one of the best teams in the tournament, and I'm not saying that because we tied, I'm saying that because there were times in that game where I felt we were getting outplayed," she said here Wednesday.
"That happens very rarely, and that happens with teams that only train a lot and are prepared and organised, and are great athletes, physical and are willing to throw it out there.
"At this point North Korea are potentially one of the hardest teams I've played (against) in my career."
The US were lucky to salvage a point after the Koreans scored two quick goals when the Americans were down to 10 players, when Wambach briefly left the ground after a mid-air collision.
Wambach, sporting 11 stitches in her head from the collision, said despite the draw, the US were not getting nervous just yet.
"I didn't think we played our best soccer, so if we were to meet them (North Korea) down the road would I be nervous, no. I still believe that our team has the tools to continue to play well and hopefully get into the second round and move forward from there," she said.
North Korean coach Kim Kwang Min warned his team was starting to fire on all cylinders, and that his young charges were on the right road in their quest to clinch the World Cup for the first time.
"We are marching toward our target to win the world title," Kim said.
"I am slightly disappointed with the result but if we meet the US team next time, I think I have found the right tactics to beat them."
The US, gunning for their third World Cup title in China, now face 2003 runner-up Sweden in Friday's crucial match which could determine who reaches the quarter-finals.
All four teams in Group B have one point each, after Sweden drew 1-1 with African champions Nigeria, making Friday's encounters critical. North Korea take on Nigeria in a double header.
"All of the teams in our group know that we all have a point and we want to win the next game so that we can go up," Wambach said.
Veteran defender Christie Rampone said the Americans were preparing for a ferocious fight against Sweden.
"Every game is going to be a tough challenge for us, the North Korea game is behind us and now we're getting ready and focused for Sweden, and it's going to be a great battle," she said.
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