VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Abby Wambach will do whatever it takes to win the Women’s World Cup, even if that means she’s coming off the bench.
Wambach entered as a second-half sub in the United States’ scoreless draw against Sweden on Friday night, the team’s second group-stage match. The second-ranked U.S. will conclude the stage on Tuesday night against Nigeria.
“The World Cup for us, for our sport, is the biggest title you can win as a team,” she said. “I’ve never had the opportunity to win one. I’ve come close. That’s obviously a dream of mine to be able raise that trophy for my country.”
Before Sweden, the United States’ all-time leading scorer hadn’t come off the bench in a World Cup match since 2003. This is the 35-year-old forward’s fourth appearance in the tournament.
A win against Nigeria, ranked No. 33 in the world, would give the United States a first-place finish in Group D and send the team to Edmonton, Alberta, to open the knockout round next Monday.
After starting in the 3-1 tournament-opening victory of Australia, Wambach entered against Sweden in the 68th minute. Less than 10 minutes later, she had one of the best U.S. scoring chances of the game, a header that Hedvig Lindahl popped up and over the crossbar.
Wambach believes that if she had been playing on real grass, she would have scored on that header. This is the first World Cup played on artificial turf, which has been a contentious issue among many players — especially Wambach.
She led the way last year when a group of players filed a claim in Canada saying that putting the Women’s World Cup on artificial turf amounted to gender discrimination because the men’s event had never been played on what some disdainfully call a “plastic pitch.”
FIFA wouldn’t bend on the issue, saying that Canada’s bid in 2011 — the only bid for the event — stipulated the tournament be played on an artificial surface. The group that filed the claim eventually dropped it so they could focus on preparation for the event.
“For me, I definitely think that the U.S. has more goals if we’re playing on grass,” she said.
Last week, Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, the former U.S. coach, said she could understand using Wambach as a substitute. Sundhage led the U.S. to two Olympic gold medals and to the final of the 2011 World Cup in Germany, where the team lost to Japan on penalty kicks.
“You have players starting the game, but you have players that will end the game, and Abby is a player that will make the difference [at the end of games],” Sundhage said. “I would have that in my back pocket and throw her in and win the game. Now, I don’t know the team today, but I saw the game against Australia, and today, playing against Sweden, I would start her because she’s that good,” Sundhage said.
Wambach doesn’t see herself coming off the bench all the time.
“I think my role for this team, being a longer tournament, might be different from game to game, opponent to opponent,” she said. “We have such strong depth, that’s one of the biggest strengths of our team, and the ability of our coaching staff to go down our bench to fix problems that are happening and to close out games. … And hopefully when we get to games four, five and six — and hopefully seven — those decisions will pay off.”
Nigeria is coming off a 2-0 loss to Australia on Friday, following a 3-3 draw with Sweden in the opener. The Super Falcons’ speed and physicality — as well as a spirited group of music-playing supporters — won fans for the team in Canada.
But Nigeria was stung by FIFA’s three-game suspension of defender Ugo Njoku, who elbowed Australian forward Samantha Kerr in the face.
Nigeria’s only chance to advance to the knockout stage is with a victory over the United States.
While the Americans are the lopsided favorites to win the match, there’s already been one big upset: France’s surprising 2-0 loss to Colombia on Saturday.
“I think that they’re going to play as hard as they can,” Wambach said. “They’re fighting for their lives in this tournament.”
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