TIANJIN, China (AFP) - Asian number ones North Korea are confident of fending off a desperate Sweden in a must-win clash here on Tuesday to secure a place in the women's World Cup quarter-finals.
North Korea are riding high after holding football giants the United States to a 2-2 draw, and backing up with an emphatic 2-0 victory over African champions Nigeria to sit alongside the Americans on top of Group B.
In an ominous warning to Euro power Sweden ahead of the crunch match, North Korea said they had yet to hit peak form, and vowed to step up their campaign for a first-ever World Cup title.
No-nonsense coach Kim Kwang Min singled out Korean captain Ri Kum Suk, saying she was not playing at her best despite the tireless forward scoring the second goal against Nigeria.
"I have seen her play much, much better than she is at this World Cup," said Kim.
"If we are to hit our peak performance here in China, Ri Kum Suk will need to step up her game and give the kind of performance that we have come to expect from her over the years."
Sweden, runner-up in 2003 to champions Germany, are in serious danger of missing the finals for the first time in the 16-year history of the World Cup, after managing only a 1-1 draw with Nigeria and losing 2-0 to the US.
The world number three need to win by three clear goals against North Korea in a last ditch effort to scrape into the top two of their group and qualify for the quarters.
Veteran Swedish campaigner Hanna Ljungberg said despite the odds, the Scandinavians were in with a shot.
"Everybody is disappointed (with the US result) but (coach) Thomas Dennerby said 'everyone is disappointed but this group is still alive' and we are going to take a chance to get through to the quarters," she said.
"We can't go into the game thinking we have no chance to qualify," added captain Victoria Svensson.
"We must try to win and finish strong."
A draw would be enough for North Korea, ranked five in the world, who are clearly soaking up the pressure in China.
"We have had some success in Asia but now we intend to be regarded as a world power," said Ri, who scored four goals in their successful Asian Games campaign last year, and is considered North Korea's best player.
While Tuesday's clash is tipped to be a fierce showdown, world number one the United States are expected to romp home against Nigeria in Shanghai, although a draw would be enough to secure the a place in the knockout rounds.
The US have survived tough, dramatic and sometimes bloody encounters against North Korea and Sweden.
But barring a major upset by Nigeria, considered the weakest of the four teams in the group, they are on track as they gun for a third Cup crown.
The Americans will be counting on talismanic forward Abby Wambach -- who needed 11 stitches to the head after a collision during the North Korea match -- and veteran captain Kristine Lilly as they move forward.
"We're getting better with every game," goalkeeper Hope Solo said.
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