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.
|Al Habsi to lead Oman at Asian Cup|
|Lacazette will stay at Lyon - Aulas|
|Southampton like Atletico, says Alderweireld|
|World Cup held PSG back - Blanc|
|Everton facing ´pivotal´ moment - Martinez|
|Zamora urges QPR to tie down Austin|
|Badstuber, Alaba set for New Year return|
|Burgos: Atletico will get the best out of Torres|
|Chelsea to offer Terry new deal - Mourinho|
|Rodgers excited by Sterling development|
|Strinic close to finalising Napoli switch|
|Torres to join Milan on permanent deal|
|Scottish Premiership Review: Celtic held to shock draw, rivals fail to capitalise|
|Wenger sings Song´s praises|
|Pochettino calls for bravery|
|West Ham could lose Allardyce - Sullivan|
|League One Preview: Saunders takes charge for Colchester clash|
|Aguirre denies any involvement in La Liga match-fixing scandal|
|Mourinho impressed by Koeman´s Southampton|
|QPR v Crystal Palace: Millen recast in familiar role|
|West Ham v Arsenal: Allardyce eyes further home comfort|
|Elusive Coppa Italia on Juventus´ wish list - Marotta|
|Jones eyes swift response|
|Millen focused on QPR clash|
|League Two Preview: Shrewsbury, Wycombe and Burton vie for year-end top spot|
|Mancini not expecting big-money signings at Inter|
|Tottenham v Manchester United: Carrick expects tough return|
|Pearson eager to see Leicester resolve|
|Newcastle United v Everton: Martinez demands clinical touch|
|Liverpool v Swansea City: Rodgers backs returning Mignolet|
|Bayern can still improve - Sammer|
|Warnock sacked by Palace|
|Aston Villa v Sunderland: No club too big to go down, says Lambert|
|Hull City v Leicester City: Pearson vows to keep going|
|Stoke City v West Brom: Hughes targets elusive back-to-back wins|
|Rodgers dismisses Balotelli exit rumours|
|Modric will not rush Madrid return|
|Dyche pleased with Vokes return|
|Southampton v Chelsea: Koeman vows to go on the offensive|
|A-League Review: Six-goal Gosford thriller, Victory leave it late|
|Manchester City v Burnley: Pellegrini warns against complacency|
|Dortmund can fight on two fronts - Watzke|
|Sterling hails improved Liverpool belief|
|Rosicky eager to build on QPR winner|
|Wenger: ´We made it hard for ourselves´|
|Kane: Spurs eye top four|
|Di Maria in doubt for Spurs clash|
|Ba left out of Senegal AFCON squad|
|Redknapp frustrated by penalty call|
|Wenger sees Giroud wrongs|
|Premier League schedule a ´disgrace´, says Poyet|
|Championship Review: Bournemouth stay top, Heskey scores on Bolton debut|
|Hughes lauds Bojan performance|
|Koeman: Saints marching on|
|Pardew rues referee error|
|Arsenal 2 QPR 1: Sublime Alexis secures the spoils|
|Martinez questions Walters decision|
|Poyet laments Sunderland mistakes|
|League One Review: Swindon cruise to win over Walsall|
|Irvine aware of need for improvement|
|United still doing ´very bad things´ - Van Gaal|
|Lambert proud of players despite Swansea defeat|
|Warnock bemoans Palace defence|
|Bruce hails Hull´s spirit|
|Pochettino relieved to come away with victory|
|Dyche: We had our pocket pinched|
|Monk hails Fabianski performance|
|Pearson demands greater concentration from Leicester|
|Kompany set for City return|
|Rodgers hails character after battling win|
|League Two Review: Ainsworth frustrated by Luton, Shrewsbury go top|
|Everton 0 Stoke City 1: Lacklustre Everton slip to defeat|
|Sunderland 1 Hull City 3: Triumphant return for Bruce|
|Burnley 0 Liverpool 1: Sterling wins it at Turf Moor|
|Leicester City 1 Tottenham 2: Eriksen piles misery on Pearson´s men|
|Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1: Rooney extends hosts´ streak|
|West Brom 1 Manchester City 3: Three and easy for in-form champions|
|Swansea City 1 Aston Villa 0: Hosts break Boxing Day duck|
|Crystal Palace 1 Southampton 3: Mane marks return with star performance|
|Allardyce upbeat despite defeat|
|Van Dijk happy at Celtic - Deila|
|Table-topping Chelsea delight Mourinho|
|Chelsea 2 West Ham 0: Mourinho´s men ease to victory|
|Suarez enjoying Messi, Neymar link-up|
|A-League Review: Garcia rescues point for Perth, Adelaide up to second|
|Poyet calls for mid-season break|
|Van Gaal rules out Januzaj move|
|Rodgers: Balotelli may have to get used to bench|
|Lallana: I was trying too hard|
|Walker juggles music, football careers in Sweden|
|Song to face ´brother from another mother´ Fabregas|
|Adriano announces Le Havre deal|
|Pardew braced for Old Trafford test|
|Lescott unfazed by City reunion|
|Tskhadadze appointed Georgia coach|
|United to finish top three - Ferdinand|
|Allardyce: Stamford Bridge stalemate saved my job|