Manchester, England • In an iconic venue against a mysterious opponent, the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team did the familiar: Abby Wambach scored the decisive goal in a victory, and the players found a funky way to celebrate.
Wambach netted for the 141st time in international play, and the Americans finished atop their group Tuesday with a 1-0 win over North Korea in the first women’s soccer game at Old Trafford in 23 years.
Chants of "U-S-A!" among the crowd of 29,522 echoed in the home of Manchester United as the Americans completed a 3-0 run in Olympic group play. They were already assured a berth in the next round entering the game, and they’ll now move on to Newcastle for a quarterfinal match on Friday.
North Korea finished with a 1-2 record in the group and still had a chance to advance, depending on the results of Tuesday’s other games. The team completed the game with 10 players after Choe Mi Gyong was sent off with a second yellow card in the 81st minute following a tackle on Lauren Cheney.
The North Koreans are ranked in the top 10 in the world, but they remain an unknown in women’s soccer because their players and officials have limited interaction with other teams. They sent a very young squad to these Olympics: Their average age of 19 years, 11 months made them look like a junior club next to the Americans, who checked in at 28 years, 1 month.
North Korea had several scoring threats in a three-minute stretch midway through the second half, forcing Hope Solo to the ground twice to preserve the shutout. Mostly, however, the U.S. goalkeeper had plenty of downtime to think about her next series of tweets. Solo ruffled feathers after the last game by using Twitter to criticize NBC analyst and former U.S. player Brandi Chastain’s commentary. Coach Pia Sundhage and the team’s captains met with Solo about the rant, but Solo didn’t back down her comments and has continued to tweet.
Offensively, the Americans can be concerned about a second straight game in which on-the-field dominance failed to produce a comfortable margin. They held a 1-0 lead over Colombia until late in the second half Saturday before pulling away to a 3-0 win.
This time, the insurance goals never came, despite plenty of chances. Alex Morgan and Wambach both hit the right post in the first half, part of a series of near-misses.
The goal came in the 25th minute on a play set up by Cheney’s long ball to Morgan, who slid a pass between two defenders to Wambach for an easy tap-in and her third goal of the tournament. The U.S. players celebrated by forming a line facing the crowd while holding hands — then they starting wiggling their arms as if to create the look of a giant, slithering snake.
The last women’s game played at Old Trafford was an FA Cup final in 1989, a match that drew less than 1,000 people.
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