The Americans conceded two bad goals to North Korea while Abby Wambach had stitches sewn into a scalp wound, yet the loss of a forward for 10 minutes shouldn't trigger defensive chaos.
Sweden's pressure troubled the USA early before the Americans rode two lethal finishes from Wambach to win, 2-0. Nigeria conceded a deflected goal in the first minute and never did the U.S. get the second goal it should have scored although it held on to win and take first place in Group B.
Heather O'Reilly (North Korea) and Lori Chalupny (Nigeria) have scored goals in addition to Wambach's three, but attacking impetus from the midfield has been sporadic. Kristine Lilly served a nice ball from the left flank for Wambach to slam home the second goal against Sweden and a mis-cleared Lilly cross led to the equalizer against North Korea, and that effective wide play will be essential in the knockout rounds.
England has its own main threat, striker Kelly Smith, a 12-year veteran of the English team at age 28 who attended college in the U.S. and played in the defunct WUSA for Philadelphia. O'Reilly played with Smith, Rachel Yankey and Rachel Unitt for the New Jersey Wildcats club team.
Smith scored both English goals in the 2-2 tie with Japan and netted twice more in a 6-1 demolition of Argentina.
"Kelly Smith is a real key attacking player for them but they have some other very good individuals as well," said U.S. coach Greg Ryan.
England midfielder Fara Williams is suspended for the quarterfinal and her absence should enable the U.S. to dominate midfield, where both Sweden and North Korea wielded control at times in the first round.
"I think she has played very well in this World Cup, in the game against Germany she was fantastic," said Ryan of Williams. "England represent a real challenge to us. They attack well, they defend well and they're good on their set pieces. There's not a lot of chinks in the armor."
GERMANY vs. NORTH KOREA
Saturday, 5 a.m., ESPN2, Galavision
The quick, aggressive North Koreans don't have the experience or polish of 2003 world champion Germany, yet they've shown the same confidence and zeal at the World Cup with which they overran their opposition in the Asian qualifiers. Birgit Prinz, Kerstin Garefrekes and Kerstin Stegemann are among many veterans of the 2003 team and their poise may be sorely tested.
NORWAY vs. CHINA
Sunday, 5 a.m., ESPN2, Galavision
The host recovered after being blasted, 4-0, by Brazil in the second group game to advance by beating New Zealand, 2-0. Yet it scraped past Denmark, 3-2, in the opener and Norway is better than Denmark.
China fell at this stage as host back in the 1991 inaugural world championship, 1-0, to Sweden. If it can ride the crowd's frenzy it can prevail against a most resilient opponent but it may lack the nerve the Norwegians always seem to have. They began the tournament by rallying from a 1-0 deficit with goals by Ragnhild Gulbrandsen and Ane Stangeland Horpestad to beat Canada, 2-1, and rebounded to thrash Ghana, 7-2, after surrendering a late equalizer in a 1-1 tie with Australia.
BRAZIL vs. AUSTRALIA
Sunday, 8 a.m., ESPN, Univision.
The winner of this game plays the USA-England survivor and the delineation between favorite and underdog is just as clear. Marta, Cristiane, Pretinha, et al have dazzled, though only in stoppage time did they dispatch Denmark, 1-0, in the group finale.
Australia stunned Canada with a stoppage-time equalizer for the 2-2 tie that edged the Aussies, again like the English, into their first quarterfinal after they'd scored in the 83rd minute (Lisa de Vanna) to tie Norway.
They drew North Korea, 0-0, in the Asian qualifiers and slugged out that tie with Norway in the group phase, so they can be hard to subdue. Even for Brazil? We shall see.