Second-half goals from Lauren Cheney and Rachel Buehler helped get USA off to the best possible start in Group C with a 2-0 win over Korea DPR in Dresden.
Pia Sundhage’s side were made to work hard for the three points by their spirited opponents, whose slick passing and pace ensured a busy evening for the US back four in the fourth meeting between these two teams at a FIFA Women’s World Cup.
There was very little to separate both sides in the opening half. After a tight start to the game, the first real chance came in the 11th minute for USA when Abby Wambach supplied Cheney inside the box, but her powerful right-footed shot was straight at Hong Myong Hui.
The North Koreans' best attacks were coming down the USA left, through Song Jong Sun and Kim Su Gyong, but Cheney and Amy Le Peilbet proved to be worthy opponents to limit them to half-chances.
USA went close again following a neat interchange between Heather O’Reilly and Wambach. Carli Lloyd was the grateful recipient of the chance, but she scuffed her effort and it was easy for the goalkeeper.
Arguably the chance of the half fell to the Asians in the 35th minute. Under pressure from Le Peilbet, Kim Su Gyong fired in a shot from a tight angle which Hope Solo did well to turn around the post. A few minutes later, Song Jong Sun fired a dangerous ball into the box, but neither Yun Hyong Hi nor Ri Ye Gyong could provide a finishing touch.
As so often happened during the half, play switched immediately to the other end and, in almost a carbon copy of the Koreans' earlier chance, Amy Rodriguez's ball was inches away from connecting with the stretching Wambach.
The opening minutes of the second half set the tone for what followed in the second 45 minutes. Wambach was close to opening the scoring, again just failing to connect with a pass, but vocal Americans in the crowd did not have long to wait to celebrate.
In the 54th minute, Ali Krieger dribbled down the left and found Wambach, who cut inside and crossed with her right foot. Cheney soared, connected and USA were in front.
Korea DPR almost had the perfect response five minutes later when Ri Ye Gyong’s shot from distance had the goalkeeper beaten, but clipped the top of the crossbar.
As the half wore on, the physical intensity of the game appeared to be taking its toll on the Koreans and in the 76th minute USA doubled their advantage when Buehler’s low shot crept just inside the post and beyond the outstretched arm of Hong.
Although the US had a goal disallowed for a foul on the goalkeeper late on, chances were at a premium in the closing stages, but Korea DPR almost grabbed a consolation when Ri Un Hyang powered a header wide from Jo Yun Mi’s corner.
Player of the match: Abby Wambach