SHANGHAI, China - The United States only needs a tie against Nigeria to reach the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup.
That result sounded modest a few weeks ago. But today it could prove difficult for the No. 1-ranked Americans, who have wobbled slightly in their first two games.
The American rallied to tie a swarming North Korea 2-2, and withstood four corners in the first four minutes to overcome Sweden 2-0. Seeking their third World Cup title, the U.S. team needs to start more quickly on the banks of the Yangtze. And they know it.
"We weathered the storm both in the North Korea game and the Sweden game," said captain Kristine Lilly, playing in an unprecedented fifth World Cup. "But I think it's a reminder. We have to be ready. We've got to start going at teams. It's another wake-up call for us to be ready right from the start instead of waiting to get into the game."
A tie will be enough to advance the United States, which is unbeaten in 49 games. However, a victory in the final Group B game might ensure a slightly easier opponent in the quarterfinal. The group winner will face England and the second-place team gets defending champion Germany.
Those teams became the first to reach the quarterfinals on Monday.
Germany ousted Japan 2-0 in Hangzhou. Birgit Prinz scored her 13th career goal in World Cup finals, eclipsing the record of 12 by American Michelle Ackers. England hammered Argentina 6-1 in Chengdu with two goals by Kelly Smith, advancing England to its first quarterfinal appearance in 12 years.
North Korea, which faces Sweden in its group final today, and the United States are tied in the first six categories used to break ties, but the U.S. has one less yellow card. Both teams are favored to win, and the top spot should go to the team that has the bigger margin of victory.
Five-time African champion Nigeria drew with Sweden 1-1 and lost 2-0 to the Koreans.
Nigeria is tall, quick and athletic with two top strikers in Cynthia Uwak and Perpetua Nkwocha - both African players of the year.
"You have a team that can kind of lull you to sleep," defender Kate Markgraf said. "They'll kind of sit in a spot on the field where you don't quite notice them. And then all of a sudden, they are so fast and so quick. You'll play a ball and they'll be able to jump on it when you're not expecting it."
Nigeria is vastly improved from the last World Cup, where the Americans won 5-0. In that one, Nigeria lost all three games and failed to score.
The Americans have defeated Nigeria in three meetings by a combined 15-2.
Germany coach Silvia Neid knows her team will have to play better in the quarterfinals.
"In the quarterfinals we need to add a little bit to our performance because we will face a very tough opponent," she said.
Germany and the United States drew 0-0 in their last game.
For England, Smith has four goals to share the tournament scoring lead. England drew 1-1 with the Americans the last time they played.
"If it's the United States, it will be a challenge that we will relish," said England coach Hope Powell, who played on England's last quarterfinal team. "We will clearly be the underdog and that's something that we will thrive on."
Group C and D will be settled on Wednesday.