U.S. U-20s dethrone North Korea as champs By Lindsey Dolich (Archive) December 7, 2008 La Florida, Santiago. AP
Sydney Leroux capped a fine tournament with the opening goal for the U.S. against North Korea. Rightfully so, for the Americans not only captured the hearts of the Chileans, but they also lifted the 2008 FIFA World Cup trophy high for the first time in six years. The U.S. dethroned 2006 FIFA World Cup champion North Korea in a dominating 2-1 victory fueled by two superb goals from forwards Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan, the most brilliant offensive tandem in the tournament. “I’d like to congratulate North Korea on a wonderful effort,” said U.S. coach Tony DiCicco in a U.S. Soccer statement. “It was obviously very difficult for us to hold onto the lead because they kept coming at us and giving us trouble possessing the ball, but I am very, very proud of my players tonight. We won because we played very good defense throughout this tournament and because Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan scored as many goals as they did.” However, things weren’t so blissful earlier in the day for the Americans, who came stumbling out of the starter’s block. Nervous and unorganized, the U.S. defense looked awfully shaky in the first 20 minutes, and coach Tony DiCicco tensely paced the sidelines screaming, “Come on! Pick it up.” The ball bounced around in the U.S. half like a pinball machine gone astray, as several key players had difficulty settling the ball. Fortunately, Morgan sparked the offense with her hustle, and Leroux’s well-placed strike just outside the box in the 23rd minute settled the team immediately. Once the scoreboard read 1-0, everything else clicked for the Yanks. More shots followed, and North Korea started to buckle under the pressure of the U.S. onslaught, boosted by two challenges from Leroux and Christine Nairn. At one point late in the second half, the U.S. had an iron-grip 66 percent control of the ball, staging a remarkable turnaround from what could have been a very ugly first half. “It’s an absolutely amazing feeling,” said Leroux in a U.S. Soccer press release. “I’ve never felt like this before in my life. After the game we were all crying because it just felt so amazing. I’m so happy with my team and the way we played the whole way through. We’ve gone through a lot together and to go to the final and have the gold medals around our necks is just amazing.” However, despite the fact North Korea racked up 17 fouls, the American’s free kicks didn’t do them any favors. Considering the North Koreans allowed only one corner kick, the U.S. set pieces were rather disappointing, as shots were either deflected or sailed high over the crossbar. In the 42nd minute, Morgan took it upon herself to insure the U.S.’s fragile lead, slicing and dicing her way through three Korean defenders to strike a sweet fallaway shot for a highlight-reel goal. If awards were handed out for best goal of the tournament, Morgan’s would win, hands down. By the second half, the U.S. was more or less chugging along, but the team hit a rough patch in the final 20 minutes, when Choe Kwang Sok’s side started to pepper U.S. goalie Alyssa Naeher with lofted balls near and on frame. Surprisingly, DiCicco only used two of his three sub allocations — a turn from his mission early on in the tournament to spread the wealth with his talent-laden bench. Considering North Korea’s tally in the 91st minute was too little, too late, DiCicco probably could have afforded to bring another player on the field to take in some World Cup experience. The tears on the U.S. players’ faces told the real story: Hours of travel, training camps and missed NCAA College Cup campaigns were all made worth it.
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