- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

FOXBORO, Mass. — A few months ago, Abby Wambach wasn’t even in the U.S. national team’s plans. Last night she was literally the biggest reason why the United States advanced to the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup.

Wambach scored the only goal of the game in the 24th minute to lead the U.S. to a hard-fought victory over arch-rival Norway in the Cup quarterfinals before 25,103 at Gillette Stadium.

The U.S. women will play the winner of tonight’s Germany-Russia match on Sunday in the semifinals at PGE Park in Portland, Ore.

Norway came in as the only team with a winning record overall against the United States. Apparently, Wambach was determined to singlehandedly narrow the deficit, which now stands at 18-17-2.

“After the game I told her, ‘Boy, that was the best game of your life,’” U.S. coach April Heinrichs said. “Abby is obviously a force, and certainly in the air, she was dangerous all game long.”

The Norwegians could not defend Wambach. The 5-foot-10 Wambach ruled the box with her superior size and strength. Norway’s game plan was to foul Wambach and physically pound on the U.S. team’s target forward.

“What teams may not know about me, is that it’s playing right into my hands,” Wambach said of Norway’s tactics. “If they play physical with me, I’m going to play physical back.”

Wambach took over as the U.S. team’s leading goal scorer with her third World Cup goal off a brilliant service from left back Cat Reddick, the only non-professional on the U.S. roster. Wambach’s goal was her 12th in international play.

Reddick, a senior at North Carolina, delivered a 40-yard looping free kick deep into the box directed to the left post. Wambach, who tied teammate Mia Hamm as the defunct WUSA’s leading scorer with 33 points this season, ran toward goal as soon as Reddick struck the ball.

Defender Marit Fiane Christensen was draped all over Wambach, but the former Washington Freedom star brushed her aside and headed Reddick’s excellent ball across the goal mouth to the far right post. Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby got a hand on the ball but not enough to prevent Wambach’s header from going in.

“Wambach is very strong in the air and in the box,” Norway coach Age Steen said. “We tried to take her out of the box, but she’s very strong. We don’t have big, physical players.”

In the first half, the U.S. women manufactured four shots on goal and Wambach had three of them. In the sixth minute, she hit the crossbar off a header from right back Christie Pearce. In the 19th minute, Wambach was denied when Nordby made a diving save on a 8-yard right-foot volley off Hamm’s free kick.

Norway, Group B’s second-place finisher, could not generate many scoring chances because of how well the U.S. women defended. The back four of central defenders Joy Fawcett and Kate Sobrero and outside backs Pearce and Reddick cleared everything out of danger.

The Norwegians became increasingly frustrated by the U.S. women’s physical play and sound defending. Norway had just two shots in the first half, and neither was on goal.

This was the third straight shutout for the U.S. women have posted in this World Cup. After four games, they have allowed one goal.

In the 68th minute, Swiss referee Nicole Petignat awarded the U.S. women a penalty kick when Wambach was tripped inside the box by Nordby on a breakaway.

Hamm took the kick, but Nordby read Hamm’s body language and guessed correctly that Hamm would go left. Nordby dived to her right and corralled Hamm’s shot.

Sweden 2, Brazil 1

FOXBORO, Mass. — Sweden surprised Brazil to advance to the semifinals.

The Swedes, who followed a loss in the opener to the United States with two wins to move into the quarterfinals, went ahead on Malin Andersson’s brilliant free kick in the 53rd minute. Moments before, Brazil’s Juliana received a yellow card for arguing the awarding of the free kick from 28 yards.

Andersson floated the ball just above the reach of goalkeeper Andreia.

The game got rough later on as Brazil committed several fouls trying to get the ball. Sweden bunkered in to protect its lead and Brazil’s creative forwards rarely found any room to operate.

In stoppage time, though, Katia broke free near the Swedish net and was clipped from behind by Sara Call. But no foul was called.

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