U.S. Beats N. Korea In Women's World Cup

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins Robert Siegel from Germany to talk about the first round of the Women's World Cup.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The U.S. women's soccer team is off to a good start in the World Cup. They met the women of North Korea today in Dresden, Germany, their first game of the tournament. And after a shaky scoreless first half, the U.S. finally broke through. Here's how it sounded on ESPN.

(SOUNDBITE OF ESPN TELECAST)

USA: Played in, shoot and goal. Lauren Cheney justifies the connection with a goal. And the USA are off and running.

SIEGEL: Off and running, and the Americans added another goal to win by a score of two to nothing.

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis is in Dresden. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And tell us a little bit more about today's USA-North Korea game.

FATSIS: Well, it really wasn't that close. The first half was sort of back and forth, both teams had some modest chances, but you could tell that the United States was the far superior team. And then when they came out on the second half, they had chances to score in the 46th minute, 49th, 50th, 51st. And then in the 54th minute, Abby Wambach, the U.S.' 31-year-old star made a beautiful move in the left corner of the field, crossed it in the air, and 23-year-old Lauren Cheney, in her first World Cup game, redirected the ball with her head into the upper left corner of the net. Wambach, a few minutes later, hit the underside of the crossbar, and then finally in the 76th minute came that second goal by defender Rachel Buehler.

SIEGEL: Stefan, it's a long time since 1999 when the United States won the World Cup on that unforgettable penalty kick by Brandi Chastain. A lot has changed since then. Where do the American women stand now?

FATSIS: They're still in its upper tier with Brazil and Germany now but haven't won the World Cup since 1999. The Germans won in 2003 and 2007. The United States lost in the semifinals of those two tournaments by a combined score of seven to nothing. They had to qualify at the last minute to get here.

Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Kristine Lilly, they're all retired now. There's only one player left from 1999. Christie Rampone is now 36 years old, the team captain. So this is a young team trying to recreate some excitement for women's soccer in the United States.

SIEGEL: Six games have been played so far in this Women's World Cup. What's the vibe in Germany for this event?

FATSIS: It's pretty low-key. When the Germans play, I think there's gonna be a lot of attention locally. Seventy thousand plus turned out for the opening game, a 2-to-1 German win over Canada in the old Olympic stadium in Berlin. The German games are scheduled for the bigger stadiums in the country.

The other games are scheduled in smaller stadiums, 20 to 25,000 seats, and those have only been filling up at half capacity if that for some of the games. The U.S. opener was a good crowd, about 80 percent of the capacity, about 20,000 people.

But I spoke with Sunil Gulati, who is the head of the U.S. Soccer Federation. He said that only a few hundred ticket packages were sold to Americans coming over. There are some Americans, obviously, living over here, so there were probably a couple of thousand Americans in the stadium. But the German crowd was largely, I think, rooting for the North Koreans.

SIEGEL: The German women have won the last two World Cups, in 2003, 2007, and they're at home for this tournament. I assume they are the favorite. Which other teams are you looking out for in this tournament?

FATSIS: Well, England is finally starting to really develop women's soccer. The country is interested in the sport, which it had not been really up until the last few years. The Three Lionesses, as the team is known, they're pretty good. They've been on a roll, and they could pose a threat here.

The Brazilians are led by Marta, their five-time World Player of the Year who plays her club soccer for the Western New York Flash outside of Buffalo in Women's Professional Soccer. They're trying to win the World Cup for the first time.

And the team nobody knows anything about here is Equatorial Guinea, who qualified from Africa, number 61 in the FIFA rankings, controversy surrounding this team. Three of their players have been accused of being men.

SIEGEL: Now, the U.S. played North Korea. The other two teams in their group would be Sweden and Colombia. Sweden beat Colombia today.

FATSIS: Yeah. Colombia is the weakest in that group. The U.S. plays them on Saturday. Sweden has always been a strong team in women's soccer. The U.S. will play them in their final group game on July 6.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan. Enjoy.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who is in Germany for the Women's World Cup of Soccer.

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