WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Forgive the United States for some opening night jitters.
The team got off to a slow start — several players called it “choppy” — but broke open a 1-all tie with Australia after the first half for a 3-1 victory in the World Cup opener on Monday night. Megan Rapinoe scored twice for the U.S. women.
“It was the first game, and there are some players out there who haven’t played in a big tournament before,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “I think we’ll get better and better as each game goes on.”
The win gives the second-ranked Americans three points to start play in Group D, the so-called Group of Death, after a 3-3 draw in the group’s opening match between fifth-ranked Sweden and upstart Nigeria, ranked No. 33.
Next up for the United States is Sweden and former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage, which many are calling the most anticipated match of the group stage. But Sweden had trouble stopping a surprisingly fast Nigerian side.
Australian coach Alan Stajcic was impressed with the tenacity of the Super Falcons.
“I think they were fantastic today. They should have won that game based on the 40-50 minutes that I saw,” Stajcic said.
Sweden plays the United States on Friday night, following Nigeria’s match against 10th-ranked Australia, which came out inspired on Monday night before the Americans put it away.
U.S. coach Jill Ellis said she thought it was good to be challenged at the start of a tournament and survive.
“I think when the draw happened and people talked about the Group of Death, that was the one positive. You’re not going to ease into these opening games,” she said. “You’ve got to be prepared from the very first whistle.
“So I think in terms of mentality, having tough matches and going into a halftime tied up, I think those things serve you well down the line.”
WATCH YOUR HEAD: U.S. defenseman Ali Krieger, sidelined in April by a concussion she sustained in the season opener for her NWSL team, the Washington Spirit, wore a protective headband in the opening match.
The Halo headband, a product of Pennsylvania-based Unequal Technologies, is made with military-grade protective material designed to absorb and disperse impact to the head.
“I want to be safe,” Kreiger said. “I’m afraid that if I get hit again, I may have to hang up the boots, and I don’t want to that. I want to be safe: It’s bigger than me, it’s about the team. It’s about this World Cup.”
OBAMA WEIGHS IN: The Women’s World Cup is being played as FIFA deals with a scandal which U.S. prosecutors allege involves more than $150 million in bribes. FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who is not at the tournament, announced last week that he plans to resign.
President Barack Obama addressed the scandal Monday at the G7 Summit in Germany.
He could not comment on the specifics of the ongoing investigation, but did say that “as the investigation and charges proceed, I think we have to keep in mind that although football — soccer, depending on which side of the Atlantic you live on — is a game, it’s also a massive business, it is a source of incredible national pride and people want to make sure that it operates with integrity.
“The United States, by the way, since we keep on getting better and better at each World Cup, we want to make sure that a sport that’s gaining popularity is conducted in an upright manner.”
NIKE SPOT: Nike is not a sponsor of the World Cup, but they are a sponsor of the United States team.
So while Nike can’t officially say the words “World Cup” in any of their advertising, the Beaverton, Oregon-based company is still going hard for the American women.
Case in point is a new ad, appropriately enough called “American Woman” which debuted on YouTube on Monday, featuring Alex Morgan, Abby Wambach and other U.S. players.
MONDAY RECAP: In other matches Monday, Cameroon defeated Ecuador 6-0 and defending World Cup champion Japan beat Switzerland 1-0 in Vancouver, British Columbia, to kick off Group C play.