Abby Wambach, U.S. women's soccer team aim for World Cup redemption with Olympic gold

Martin Rogers
Abby Wambach of United States is tackled by Kim Myong Gum of DPR Korea during the Women's Football first round Group G match between the United States and DPR Korea,on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on July 31, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

LONDON – Abby Wambach shed no tears as she walked through a sterile tunnel in a German soccer stadium one year and 13 days ago. Her voice was cracking, but there was no slump of the shoulders and not a shred of acceptance of what had just happened.

Minutes earlier, the United States had lost a World Cup final that was theirs for the taking, surrendering a late extra-time lead to Japan before falling in a penalty shootout.

Wambach had a superb tournament. She scored a dramatic equalizer in a quarterfinal comeback against Brazil, the go-ahead goal in the final, and converted her attempt in the shootout.

But she also no longer wanted to talk about the World Cup. The Olympics were her focus.

"There is only one way we are ever going to feel better about this," Wambach said. "That is by coming back strong and winning the gold medal at the Olympics. We have to be ready for it, and when the time comes, we have to be ruthless."

[ Related: Japanese coach instructed team to play for a draw ]

That time is now, and a shot at redemption for Wambach and her colleagues has presented itself at these Olympics. Despite being one of the best players in the world for most of the last decade, Wambach's only major international tournament triumph came at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, where she scored the winning goal in the final to clinch gold.

Four years later, the U.S. tasted success again, but Wambach was sidelined through injury and could only listen to the locker-room celebrations via cell phone when a team official called her back in the States.

The draw in London has been kind, and thanks to a storming run through the group stage, the Americans have perhaps the easiest quarterfinal opponent possible in New Zealand. That game will take place on Friday in Newcastle's St James' Park with a semifinal showdown against either host nation Great Britain or Canada on the line.

Wambach has been in strong form during this tournament, enjoying a forward partnership with Alex Morgan that may be the most dynamic currently in the women's game.

"Abby is relentless," head coach Pia Sundhage said. "She has so much courage. She gets in the box and she never gives up and I think it's almost like a theme for this team."

[ Related: Brazilians blast London Games officials for bus snafu ]

The nature of the Olympic soccer tournament, which plays many of its games in different parts of the country, means the American women will only get to play in London if they reach the final at Wembley Stadium.

That may actually serve as a valuable point of focus. Wambach already has a nothing-but-the-gold mentality.

"There is no better motivation than losing," Wambach told USA Today. "I believe this team has something to prove. It adds even more fuel to that fire. It is important that the freshness of that loss is stuck in our minds and, honestly, our hearts."

Victory in this tournament would be a significant boost for the women's game in the U.S., which has suffered since the WPS league folded earlier this year.

Wambach and her teammates have a valuable opportunity to showcase themselves and their ability in front of a vast audience. But for all the peripheral side effects that would come with the title, there is just one thing Abby Wambach really wants to do.


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