With tension escalating between their governments, the United States and North Korea were drawn Tuesday into the same first-round group for this summer’s Olympic women’s soccer tournament.
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The Americans will play in Group G, which includes France, Colombia and the isolated Asian nation, an opponent four times at the Women’s World Cup but never at the Olympics.
"A lot of the time we are at the center of some controversy on the political stage, but we have to give them the respect they deserve," Tim Ryder, general manager of the U.S. women’s team, told The Associated Press. "We try to keep (away) the things that don’t pertain to us on the football field and concentrate on the football aspect."
The Americans open the group stage against the French on July 25 at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland, where the U.S. will also play Colombia three days later. The Americans complete the first round against North Korea on July 31 at Old Trafford in Manchester.
"We will start with an excellent opponent that we faced in the World Cup and that is a good thing," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "Once again, we will be facing teams with different playing styles and that is a challenge our team enjoys. When the draw happens, it energizes our players and brings even more of a focus to our team. We also have the chance to start scouting and preparing for what will be an entertaining and extremely competitive first round."
If the Americans win their group, they would advance to a quarterfinal at Newcastle on Aug. 3 against the third-place team from Group E or F, and then could reach a semifinal at Old Trafford on Aug. 6.
If they finish second in Group G, their quarterfinal would be against he Group F winner in Glasgow, and they would be on a track to play a semifinal at London’s Wembley Stadium. The final is at Wembley on Aug. 9.
A third-place finish in the group could lead to a quarterfinal against the Group E winner at Coventry, England.
Group E of the 12-team tournament includes Brazil, host Britain, Cameroon and New Zealand, and Group F has Canada, Japan, South Africa and Sweden.
The U.S., which lost to Japan in the final of last year’s Women’s World Cup, won the gold medal in 1996, 2004 and 2008.
The draw for the men’s tournament has Britain, Senegal, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay in Group A; Gabon, Mexico, South Korea and Switzerland in Group B; Belarus, Brazil, Egypt and New Zealand in Group C; and Honduras, Japan, Morocco and Spain in Group D.
Men’s Olympic soccer is limited to under-23 teams, with three overage players allowed on each team. Britain, as host, is fielding a team that can include players from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy is among the players under consideration for Britain’s team.
The U.S. failed to qualify for the men’s tournament for only the second time since 1976.