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Abby Wambach uses her words and U.S. uses its skills to beat China, 1-0

Abby Wambach played just four minutes Friday. She didn't score a goal. She didn't even take a shot.

Yet she may have been as responsible as any member of the U.S. team for the Americans' 1-0 victory over China in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup at sold-out TD Place.

Coming back onto the field after a scoreless first half during which the U.S. wasted opportunity after opportunity, Wambach gathered the players in front of their bench and gave them . . . well, let's call it an inspirational talk.

"First 10 minutes," she said, punctuating her prediction with profanity, "we get a . . . goal!"

Six minutes later, Carli Lloyd put a header into the back of the net, sending the U.S. on to the semifinals, where it will meet top-ranked Germany. The Germans beat France on penalty kicks.

"I love her halftime talks because she always strikes the right mood," defender Meghan Klingenberg said of Wambach. "She can kind of read how the team's feeling and go with that.

"This one was more about 'keep doing what you're doing.'"

That's one way to describe it. Wambach chose another term.

"I'm very passionate," she said. "Some of my teammates had to move away from me during the game because I'm kind of obnoxious on the bench.

"I'm screaming and yelling for my teammates."

Then at halftime she screamed and yelled at them. And they responded. The second half, Wambach said, was "one of the best 45 minutes that we've played.".

And it was an important 45 minutes for a team that, although unbeaten five games into the World Cup, has yet to put its signature on the tournament.

Friday it may have at least printed its name. And that's a start.

"We talked about trying to grow in this tournament. And today was a big, big step for that in terms of just the energy and the confidence that we had," Coach Jill Ellis said. "It's a really good step heading into the semifinals."

But if Wambach did the talking and Ellis did the strategizing, Lloyd and center backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston did the heavy lifting.

Lloyd, making her 200th international appearance, ran the offense from the midfield, then jumped over Chinese defender Rong Zhao to head in the deciding goal off a long Johnston pass from just inside the midfield stripe.

It was another clutch goal from a player who has built her career around them, scoring the game-winners in the last two Olympic finals.

"These are the moments that I live for," Lloyd said. "It's just one of those things where you prepare for it mentally, physically."

Lloyd said the addition of Morgan Brian as a holding midfielder gave her the ability to join the attack.

"I wasn't myself in the beginning of the games," she said. "And now having the freedom to kind of attack and do what I do best enabled me to create some chances."

Sauerbrunn and Johnston, meanwhile, shut down the Chinese attack before it could get organized, extending the scoreless streak of U.S. opponents to 423 minutes and helping goalkeeper Hope Solo to her 88th career shutout and 134th win, both U.S. records.

Solo faced just two shots on goal in recording her ninth World Cup shutout, one behind Brianna Scurry's team record.

Now it's on to the semifinals for the seventh time in seven World Cups, something no other country has done.

"Every stage of this tournament, it's a new tournament," Wambach said. "So the group stage is over. Then the round-of-16 stage is over. The quarterfinals are over.

"This is a new tournament. And in order to get to the final, we're going to have to play almost impeccable soccer."

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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