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She steps up, big time, when the pressure is on

Special to The Times

There have been skeptics who think Abby Wambach comes up big simply because she is.

Big, that is. 5 feet 11, 170 pounds, “The most dominant physical presence I’ve ever seen in the women’s game,” U.S. women’s soccer Coach Greg Ryan said.

Nearly half of Wambach’s goals have come on headers. That, the skeptics say, owes simply to her head being so much above everyone else’s and her body being wide enough to create headway.

Wambach gave a swift kick to such thinking Friday as she scored both goals in the United States’ 2-0 win over Sweden in the Women’s World Cup.

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Maybe Wambach was just using her noggin’ . . . by not using it, since she needed stitches to close a cut on the top of her head after a collision while opening the World Cup with a 2-2 tie against North Korea.

The first goal against Sweden was a penalty kick.

The second was a thing of beauty.

She took a perfect pass to the chest from captain Kristine Lilly, played the ball down, then caught it with her left foot on the half-volley and drilled it past the Swedish goalie. “Abby has a real eye for goal,” said Sweden’s 5-3 star forward Hanna Ljungberg.

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That is a bit of an understatement. Wambach has scored 80 goals in 98 games for the U.S., three in two games at this World Cup.

Friday’s came in what Ryan called “an elimination game.” A loss to the Swedes wouldn’t have knocked the U.S. women out of the World Cup mathematically, but it would have added up to big trouble with one game left in group play.

Now the U.S. women need only a tie Tuesday against Nigeria to make the quarterfinals. “If you like [soccer], you have to like a player like Abby Wambach,” Sweden Coach Thomas Dennerby said.

Big time.

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Philip Hersh covers Olympic sports for Tribune newspapers.


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