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Two for the road

Wambach nets a pair in USA's win over Sweden; more

Posted: Friday September 14, 2007 11:09AM; Updated: Friday September 14, 2007 2:51PM
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Able to push a first half penalty kick past Sweden goalie Hedvig Lindahl, Abby Wambach has proven her worth for the U.S.
Able to push a first half penalty kick past Sweden goalie Hedvig Lindahl, Abby Wambach has proven her worth for the U.S.

CHENGDU, China -- For the longest time, there were those in the game who would have you believe that Abby Wambach's success could be attributed to her size -- at a stout 5-foot-11, she towers over just about everyone on the pitch. Tonight in Chengdu, Wambach showed why those people are, for lack of a better word, idiots.

Even before her 58th-minute goal (more on that in a second), Wambach was dribbling out of tight spaces, blowing past smaller -- and ostensibly faster -- defenders and hooking up with fellow forwards Kristine Lilly and Lindsay Tarpley to give the Swedish defense fits. She calmly put away a penalty kick in the first half and then early in the second scored a huge insurance goal with a piece of skill that most smaller, quicker players would kill to possess.

Wambach went on a run down the middle, splitting two Swedish defenders and outrunning them. Lilly then whipped in a cross from the left wing that Wambach chested down and half-volleyed past a flummoxed Hedvig Lindahl. (The Swedish keeper was no stranger to the feeling of being a flummoxee). Afterward, Wambach remained modest. "[Lilly] saw me making my run and basically she did all the rest," she said. "She played an amazing ball. I luckily took a decent touch off my chest and was able to half-volley it."

Decent touch? Her teammates saw it differently. "World class," one said. "The ball Lil played in was unbelievable, but that touch Abby had with her chest was awesome," said Leslie Osbourne.

The U.S. could have won without the goal, but it was huge, given that the first tiebreaker in the group stages is goal difference.

Notes from Chengdu

• U.S. coach Greg Ryan made two changes to his starting lineup, giving Tarpley the start at forward and replacing Shannon Boxx with Osbourne at defensive midfielder. Boxx struggled in the draw with North Korea, and Osbourne has a history of playing well against Sweden. (Osbourne did a terrific job shutting down star striker Victoria Svensson). Ryan put Boxx in to start the second half, taking out the more attack-minded Carli Lloyd -- and Boxx responded with a much better performance. The change showed just how intent Ryan was to sit on his lead, which, at the time, was only 1-0. "Carli's a great player when you're trying to get a goal," Ryan said. "Shannon's a great player when you've got a lead."

• Save for an occasional bump and a shaky first couple of minutes (the U.S. conceded four corners in the first four minutes), the U.S. back four was outstanding. For the second game in a row, they limited their opponent to nothing but speculative, long-range shots. And they got into the act on offense as well.

Half an hour in, right back Christie Rampone was pushing forward, so Kate Markgraf, who rarely ventures past the halfway line, slid over to the right and picked up a loose ball. Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl, who inherited the job after a recent injury to regular starter Caroline Jonsson, had already shown some shakiness, so Markgraf figured she'd bomb a long ball in Lindahl's direction and see if anything came of it. "I hit it how far [defender] Cat [Whitehill] hits it, and that's kind of unusual," said Markgraf. "She inspired me to kick the crap out of it."

And kick the crap out of it Markgraf did. The ball bounced in the box and Lindahl allowed it to bounce over her head. Lori Chalupny slipped in behind her and was taken down by Stina Segerstrom, which referee Gyoengyi Gaal deemed a penalty. Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby described it thusly: "Hedvig let the ball go over her head, then it was a bad situation and they ended up with a penalty." A bad situation, indeed.