MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany — 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 on Wednesday.
Wambach broke a 1-1 deadlock with a strong header from Lauren Cheney’s corner kick in the 79th minute. Cheney delivered the ball perfectly to the far post, and Wambach jumped over the scrum and pushed the ball past French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz. She 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 her with 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.
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. The Americans will now play either Japan or Sweden in Sunday’s final in Frankfurt.
The Americans had only two days’ rest following their dramatic shootout win over Brazil in the quarterfinals, their quickest turnaround of the tournament, and there had been concern that fatigue or emotions might get the best of them. But Wambach, who has been playing with an Achilles’ tendon so sore it often keeps her out of practice, dismissed that idea.
And she sure didn’t look hobbled.
“In the end, we’re in the finals,” Wambach said, “and that’s all that matters.”
The U.S. was staked to an early lead by Cheney’s goal in the ninth minute. But with the silky smooth Louisa Necib calling the shots, France dominated for most of the game, finishing with a whopping 25-11 advantage in shots. They missed two great chances in the first half, with Solo having to tip a Gaetane Thiney shot away in the 30th and Sonia Bompastor rattling the crossbar two minutes later.
Finally, in the 55th, France got its equalizer. Bompastor floated in a cross from about 30 yards and, with the dangerous Gaetane Thiney right in front of her, Hope Solo had little opportunity to move and the ball flew right past her.
But just as they did Sunday against Brazil, the Americans got stronger and stronger as the game went on before Wambach came through. Morgan then put the game out of reach, showing why many believe she’s next big U.S. thing. Outracing four French defenders, Morgan sprinted up the left side and then stutter-stepped to throw Sapowicz off before chipping over the goalkeeper.