The U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team got goals from Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan, both first-half strikes from outside the penalty area, to defeat Korea DPR 2-1 and win the 2008 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup.
For Leroux, it was her fifth goal of the tournament as she earned the Golden Shoe as the tournamen’s top scorer. She also won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player, just the second American to earn that honor along with Carin Jennings, who was the top player at the 1991 FIFA Women’s World Cup in China.
Morgan’s goal, which proved to be the eventual game-winner, was her fourth goal of the tournament. Morgan won the Bronze Ball as the tournament’s third-best player and the Bronze Shoe as the third-leading scorer.
The U.S. defense, which allowed a tournament-low three goals in six games, played yet another superb match, allowing North Korea’s lone score with just 90 seconds left in second half stoppage time. It was the only goal allowed during the five matches played by U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who was awarded the Golden Glove as the best ‘keeper in the tournament. The U.S. capped the historic win by taking the FIFA Fair Play award.
“I’d like to congratulate North Korea on a wonderful effort,” said U.S. head coach Tony DiCicco. “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.”
The USA scored 12 goals in the tournament, a combined nine from Leroux and Morgan as well as one each from midfielders Becky Edwards and Keelin Winters. The USA’s game-winning goal against Germany in the semifinal was originally credited to Leroux, who forced the goal on a hustling play, but it was later changed to an own goal.
North Korea started the match strong and was the aggressor in the early going, forcing several turnovers in the midfield, but Choe Un Ju and Cha Hu Nam were forced to take shots from long distance that gave Naeher little trouble. Naeher finished the night with six saves, seeing by far the most action of the tournament.
After the initial pressure from the Asian champions, the U.S. settled into their rhythm and in the 23rd minute struck first. A deflected shot from Morgan was poorly cleared and bounced to Keelin Winters who was about 30 yards from the goal. Winters’ deft first-time touch to Leroux was settled perfectly and she quickly wheeled toward goal and struck a side-footed shot into the right side of the net from 18 yards out.
“It’s an absolutely amazing feeling,” said Leroux. “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.”
Minutes after scoring, Leroux was back on the attack as she got on the end of a long ball. She took a shot from the top of the box that nearly snuck into the near post under the diving Kim Un Ju. Morgan was also dangerous throughout the opening half, creating opportunities for her teammate and drawing numerous fouls. Set pieces were plentiful in the match, which saw North Korea commit 17 fouls to the USA’s five.
Just three minutes before halftime, Morgan tallied the crucial goal when she doubled the USA’s lead on a remarkable individual dribbling run after receiving a throw-in from Elli Reed near the right sideline.
Morgan settled the bouncing ball as she spun around a defender and took off toward goal. She spilt two more defenders with lengthy strides, but then almost lost the ball as a North Korea defender came hard into the tackle. She was able to keep control, then beat another defender with a quick move to the inside before sliding to smack a 26-yard shot with her left foot. The ball flew over Kim and into the upper left corner for what surely was one of the best goals in the nine world championship finals the American women have played in during their history.
“I think we were happy with a 1-0 lead, but once it became 2-0 I think we realized that we weren’t going to lose this one,” said Morgan. “We stepped it up after the first goal and we didn’t let them come back.”
Even with a two-goal advantage the U.S. continued to push and at times it looked like the USA would be more likely to get a third before North Korea got its first. Midfielder Christine Nairn, the USA’s youngest player, was dangerous from distance in the first half, forcing Kim into two difficult saves. Nikki Washington, who gave U.S. opponents trouble all tournament long down the right flank with her speed and creativity, forced a turnover in the 53rd minute. She then sprung Leroux down the right side, but her shot from a tough angle was scooped up by Kim.
The Leroux and Morgan duo nearly netted another in the 64th minute as Morgan chased down a ball in the corner. She took on a defender and sent the ball into the box for Leroux, but her shot was blocked away by a defender.
With time ticking away, North Korea stepped up its pressure and created a number of dangerous opportunities before finally putting away a goal in the 92nd minute on a nice volley from Cha Hu Nam. That proved to be too little, too late for the North Koreans, who did not get another good chance. Seconds after the goal the referee blew the final whistle, giving the USA its second world title at this age level.
The USA won the first-ever FIFA U-19 Women’s World Cup in 2002, took third in 2004, and finished fourth at the first U-20 Women’s World Cup in 2006.
The U.S. triumph also capped a remarkable year for the U.S. Women’s National Team programs, which advanced to the championship game of all three FIFA women’s tournaments this year, winning the 2008 Olympics and finishing second at the 2008 FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. The victory for the U-20s makes the United States the first country to win two women’s world titles in the same calendar year.
The victory also completed a historic treble of sorts for DiCicco, who led the full U.S. Women’s National Team to the 1996 Olympic gold medal as well as the ground-breaking 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup title.
(courtesy of ussoccer.com)