The U.S. women labored to defeat Nigeria, 1-0, in the final game of group qualifying on Tuesday, a win that combined with Sweden's 2-1 win over North Korea earned the USA first place in Group B and a quarterfinal date against England on Saturday (North Korea faces Germany in another quarterfinal). The Americans scored after just 55 seconds and were then made to work hard to maintain that lead for the next 89 minutes. The Nigerians didn't create too many clear chances, but they enjoyed the majority of possession. Their physical play also took a toll on the U.S. women, particularly Abby Wambach, who fell to the ground injured on separate occasions in the dying seconds.
Coach Greg Ryan will be pleased that the goal came from a perfectly executed set piece. Wambach flicked a Cate Whitehill throw-in perfectly into the stride of the on-rushing Lori Chalupny, who took a touch with her chest and then clipped the ball home off a deflection from a Nigerian defender.
Of course, it's always good to grind out a win when you're not playing well, but as the Associated Press says, the U.S. looked "sluggish" in the first round despite taking seven points from three games. The U.S. may have to dig deeper to defeat England; the Americans have won six of the nine contests between them, but the last meeting, held eight months ago, ended in a 1-1 draw. Ryan's team has now stretched its unbeaten run to an impressive 50 games.