- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 13, 2011

MOENCHENGLADBACH, Germany — The U.S. kept its fans breathless again. And just like last time, Abby Wambach — who else — came up big.

Wambach broke a tense tie with a thunderous header in the 79th minute, and the U.S. earned its first trip to the World Cup final since winning it in 1999 with a 3-1 victory over France on Wednesday.

“We’ve achieved part of our goal. We’re in the final,” Wambach said. “We want to complete it. We want to be world champs.”

Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan also scored for the Americans, who will play Japan — 3-1 winners over Sweden — on Sunday in Frankfurt. If the U.S. wins, it would be the first team to claim three World Cup titles.

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!” and the party quickly spread across the Atlantic. A thrilling win over Brazil in the quarterfinals captivated fans back home, and a little thing called the workday wasn’t enough to deter them.

U.S. players celebrate winning the World Cup semifinal match against France 3-1 in Moenchengladbach, Germany on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
U.S. players celebrate winning the World Cup semifinal match against France 3-1 ... more >

Dozens of fans crowded around TVs in the Phoenix airport to watch the game, and less than an hour after it ended, “World CupFinals” was trending on Twitter. “My heroes. Wambach. Boxx. Rapinoe. Solo. That TEAM! Our team!” actor Tom Hanks tweeted. Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers said, “Awesome job US Women, finish it off Sunday now.”

Wambach and company were glad to share the moment.

“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.”

The Americans had only two days’ rest following the Brazil game, 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.

Lauren Cheney, who’d staked the Americans to an early lead with her goal in the ninth minute, took a corner kick in the 79th and immediately looked for the star forward. Wambach is one of the world’s best in the air, and France was guarding her tightly. But Cheney delivered the ball perfectly to the far post, and the 5-foot-11 Wambach soared over the scrum, pushing the ball past French goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz.

“I knew Abby was going to beat her,” Cheney said.

Asked how, Cheney said, “Because she’s Abby Wambach.”

Wambach let out a scream and did a sliding sprint into the corner, where she was mobbed by her teammates. It was her 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. Fed by second-half sparkplug Megan Rapinoe, Morgan outraced four defenders up the left side before stutter-stepping to throw Sapowicz off before taking her shot.

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