MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany (AP) — The United States is in the World Cup final for the first time since it last won the title in 1999, and once again, it was Abby Wambach coming up big in a 3-1 victory over France.
Wambach broke a tense tie in the 79th minute Wednesday with a monstrous header — what else? — off of a Lauren Cheney corner kick.
Cheney delivered the ball perfectly to the far post, and the 5-foot-11 forward soared over the scrum and pushed the ball past French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz. Wambach let out a scream and did a sliding sprint into the corner, where she was mobbed by her teammates.
It was Wambach’s third goal of the tournament and 12th of her career, tying fellow American Michelle Akers for third on the all-time World Cup scoring list.
Alex Morgan added an insurance goal in the 82nd, the first for the World Cup rookie. When the final whistle sounded, the Americans rushed onto the field. Wambach found U.S. coach Pia Sundhage and gave her a bearhug as the pro-American crowd of 25,676 serenaded the team with chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”
“Abby, she’s just the best,” Sundhage said. “I’m very happy to have her in our team. Great.”
Despite the loss, the World Cup was a resounding success for the French, who made their first appearance in the semifinals and qualified for next summer’s London Olympics.
The French didn’t stick around to watch the Americans celebrate — and the party is sure to be even bigger back home. A thrilling win over Brazil in the quarterfinals captivated fans back home, with Hollywood celebs, other pro athletes and folks who’d never watched a soccer game before jumping on the U.S. bandwagon.
Ellen DeGeneres wished the team good luck on Twitter before the game, dozens in the Phoenix airport were glued to TVs and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers tagged one of his Tweets with “worldcupfinalherewecome.”
Though the Americans are two-time World Cup champions, they haven’t made the final since Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain won it all in 1999. This American team will now play either Japan or Sweden in Sunday’s final in Frankfurt.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)