FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007

FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007

7 June - 7 July

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Player to Watch: Abby Wambach

Broad shouldered, lean and just shy of six feet, Mary Abigail 'Abby' Wambach possesses power virtually unheard of in the women's game. Yet it is the American striker's strength of character that has seen her plough through the many obstacles that have littered her path since she first mucked in with the guys at school more than two decades ago.

Neither part of the 'golden girl' generation nor the young kids on the block, the combative player has never needed a group to help demonstrate her individuality. At 27 with a record of 75 strikes in less than 100 matches and this season averaging a goal a game, she goes into the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 bang in form and psyched up to claim the one prize that has so far eluded her.

"I like to think I have will, I don't like to lose," says the plain-speaking former Washington Freedom player. "I'm a target forward. My assets are my power and strength."

After coming to international recognition at the previous finals in the United States, where she was big enough to overshadow American great Mia Hamm, Wambach followed up a year later in Athens by scoring the extra-time winner against Brazil in the nail-biting finale to the Olympic Football Tournament.

That header was typical of Wambach's never-say-die attitude as well as her sensational ability in the air. Despite the disappointment associated with the folding of the American women's league (WUSA) in 2003, she has kept physically and mentally fit. While 36-year-old captain Kristine Lilly has replaced Hamm as her strike partner, Wambach, nowadays, is very much the spearhead of attack under new coach Greg Ryan.

As the United States' most prolific scorer ever, the No20's record demands attention yet the player who grew up skinning and barging her way past boys at junior school, is happy to allow the media glare to fall on others.

"Attention? I sure hope I don't get too much," she says believably. "I really don't care for the limelight. My only goal is to win."

Ryan's own record in not bad either. Since taking the reins two-and-a-half years ago, he is unbeaten over 90 minutes with an awesome 37 wins and no losses from 44 games. The United States only hiccough in that time was a penalty shootout loss to world champions Germany at the 2006 Algarve Cup.

"You'd think not having a league would make it more difficult but we've had a pretty rigorous schedule," she tells. "The league folding may have been a blessing in disguise as it's helped the new girls blend in. We've been having full summer residency camps at the Home Depot Center (near Los Angeles) for four to six months, training three weeks on, one week off."

Just as she did four years previously, Wambach now expects the likes of forwards Heather O'Reilly, Natasha Kai and Lindsay Tarpley and midfielders Leslie Osborne and Lori Chalupny to make an impression in China.

"We haven't lost personality," she argues. "The new girls have brought just that - their own personality. The great thing about the team was that whoever wore the jersey in the past and present are there for a reason. Every generation is creating tradition and learning morals and values. It will always be that way."

It is the kind of positive thinking typical of the U.S. camp and which, through the help of a sports psychologist, got the team through the disappointment of losing to Germany on home soil in 2003.

"We've had the psychology for a good few years now. Through refocusing, imagery and promoting togetherness, it gives us confidence and belief," she says, revealing that her own match-day routine or "superstition" involves listening to music in order to focus. "I think the mental side is very important in sport nowadays - it's been proven to work. Personally, I don't lack confidence but I'd rather be over than under-prepared."

Wambach, who dropped her studies at the University of Florida to play in WUSA alongside Hamm at Washington Freedom, also paid tribute to the quiet effect Ryan had on the younger players.

"Greg allows players to become who they are, to be and to express themselves," she says. "We're playing for Kristine Lilly right now to send her off on a high note."

For the upcoming World Cup, which kicks off on 10 September, the United States were given a tough draw alongside Sweden, Nigeria and Korea DPR - the same three teams they faced and beat - at the group stage four years ago.

"Sweden and the North Koreans are good teams and will be difficult to overcome," predicts the native of New York state. "Then there's Germany and Brazil. Norway are also strong. In fact you can make a case for any number - though most teams would probably say we are their rivals."

Brazil's Marta is considered the most gifted player while Germany's Birgit Prinz combines strength and pace, but the American striker remains unafraid.

"I respect Germany and Brazil because they play nice soccer, but fear?" she asks, "I don't fear anything or anyone."

She may not be the most sophisticated player on the planet but Abby Wambach's directness could just be the key to a hat-trick of titles for her nation.

Explore this topic

Recommended Stories

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Player to Watch: Adjoa Bayor

12 Jul 2007

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Player to Watch: Ri Kum Suk

24 Jul 2007

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Player to Watch: Cristiane

08 Jun 2007

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Abby bleeds red, white and blue

13 Sep 2007

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Wambach: Roll on 2011

30 Sep 2007

FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™

Marta sweeps the board

30 Sep 2007