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Wambach propels USA into title game

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany - Abby Wambach sure knows how to deliver. A goal, a promise and soon, she hopes, a World Cup title.

Abby Wambach goes up for a header against France's Sandrine Soubeyrand on Wednesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Abby Wambach goes up for a header against France's Sandrine Soubeyrand on Wednesday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)Read more

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany - Abby Wambach sure knows how to deliver.

A goal, a promise and soon, she hopes, a World Cup title.

The U.S. women had fans on edge once again until Wambach broke a tense tie with her header off a corner kick in the 79th minute yesterday Alex Morgan scored 3 minutes later to seal a 3-1 semifinal victory over France, and the Americans let loose with a party that carried across the Atlantic Ocean.

Next up, a trip to the World Cup final Sunday in Frankfurt that will be the first for Americans since 1999, when they last won it all. They'll play Japan, which upset Sweden, 3-1, to move one step away from realizing its own dream.

"We've achieved part of our goal. We're in the final," said Wambach, who scored her third goal of this tournament, 12th in her career. "We want to complete it. We want to be world champs."

So do their fans, new and old.

The Americans captivated the crowd back home with their epic, come-from-behind win over Brazil on Sunday, and a little thing called a workday wasn't going to deter them. Some fans skipped work - bars opened early for the noon EDT kickoff - while others sneaked peeks at the game in the office.

At the Phoenix airport, dozens of fans crowded around TVs to watch the game. About 100 people in San Francisco ignored a foggy, chilly morning to watch the game outside in front of City Hall.

When the final whistle blew, Hollywood celebrities, pro athletes and ordinary folks who, only a few days agao, didn't know a free kick from a corner kick flooded Twitter with congratulations.

"My heroes. Wambach. Boxx. Rapinoe. Solo. That TEAM! Our team!" actor Tom Hanks tweeted.

"Awesome job US Women, finish it off Sunday now," tweeted Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, of the Green Bay Packers.

"These wins, we can't do it alone. We know a whole nation is cheering us on," Wambach said. "We believe in ourselves and we're in the final. I couldn't be happier."

With the United States struggling to create opportunities in the middle, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage replaced Delran, N.J.'s Carli Lloyd with spark plug Megan Rapinoe early in the second half, moved Lauren Cheney inside and pulled Wambach back to the midfield.

The difference was noticeable immediately. The Americans were able to push forward and began threatening French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz.

Finally, in the 79th, the Americans won a corner kick.

"I told [Cheney] at halftime, 'Put the ball to the back post, and we're going to get a goal,' " said Wambach, who is tied with Michelle Akers for third on the all-time World Cup scoring list.

Cheney delivered the ball perfectly to the far post and, just as Wambach predicted, she soared over the scrum and pushed the ball past Sapowicz.

Wambach let out a scream and did a sliding sprint into the corner, where she was mobbed by her teammates.

Morgan then put the game out of reach, outracing four defenders and then stutter-stepping in front of the goal, throwing Sapowicz off and leaving the American with a wide-open shot.

The 1999 Cup team that included Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy got the rock-star treatment, and every team since then has lived in their shadow. Part of the problem is no team's been able to duplicate that group's success.

"Nothing to take away from them because what they did was special. What they did gave us the opportunities all of us have here," Wambach said. "This generation is cool, because we want to make a name for ourselves. We want the next generation to be ours."

The United States was staked to an early lead by Cheney's goal in the 9th minute. The French missed two great chances in the first half, but got the equalizer in the 55th minute from Sonia Bompastor.

But just as they did Sunday against Brazil, the Americans got stronger and stronger as the game went on before Wambach - who scored a critical goal in the waning moments against the Brazilians - came through.

"In the end, we're in the finals," Wambach said, "and that's all that matters." *