Abby Wambach scored late in the first half and the U.S. women’s national team went on to beat Nigeria 1-0 on Tuesday night for a first-place finish in its group at the Women’s World Cup.
VANCOUVER, B.C. – Abby Wambach is used to scoring with her head. She’s not sure how she got her latest goal.
“I think it was my shin guard, to be quite honest,” she said. “I’m not 100 percent sure.”
It doesn’t really matter to Wambach. What does is that she scored Tuesday, pulling the U.S. national team to a 1-0 victory over Nigeria and into a first-place finish in its group at the Women’s World Cup.
That sends the United States to Edmonton, Alberta, for its opening match of the knockout stage Monday against an opponent to be determined.
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It was Wambach’s first goal in Canada and her 14th overall in a World Cup, pulling her even with German Birgit Prinz for second on the all-time list behind Brazil’s Marta, who has 15.
“Getting that goal right before the half was big for us,” Wambach said. “Not taking too many injuries is also positive, and going out first in our group was absolutely what we set out to do.”
Wambach came off the bench for the United States in the team’s previous match against Sweden. On Tuesday, she started up front with Alex Morgan, who was making her first World Cup start in Canada after working her way back from a bone bruise in her left knee.
The United States, ranked second in the world behind Germany, has two World Cup titles, but hasn’t won since 1999.
Nigeria, which has won seven of nine African championships, has been to every World Cup since it started for the women in 1991. The 33rd-ranked Super Falcons were eliminated after the loss to the United States after playing to a 3-all draw with Sweden in the opener and falling 2-0 to Australia.
Afterward, Nigeria coach Edwin Okon would not shake the hand of U.S. coach Jill Ellis.
“I typically always go and shake the coach’s hand,” Ellis was quoted as saying in The Oregonian. “The bench personnel shook my hand and the coach, I said, ‘You’re not going to shake my hand?’ He said, ‘No.’ He kind of put his hand out a little bit, but that’s his call, not mine.”
The United States opened Group D with a 3-1 victory over No. 10 Australia, before playing to a 0-0 draw with No. 5 Sweden.
Morgan hadn’t started a match since April. The speedy 25-year-old played 12 minutes as a sub in the draw with Sweden.
Wambach also came in as a sub in the match against Sweden last Friday.
The 35-year-old veteran, who didn’t score in the first two U.S. group-stage matches, had never gone without a goal in the opening round in her four overall World Cup appearances.
Wambach said it was important to get a start alongside Morgan as the team heads to the round of 16.
“Huge to get Alex minutes, not just for us to get the minutes together, but for her to get minutes in the World Cup, and for her to get her legs under her,” Wambach said.
“Because we need Alex Morgan.”
Julie Johnston had the best chance for the United States early in a match that attracted a crowd of 52,193 to BC Place, but her strike in the eighth minute was ruled offside.
Minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo dived to stop Nigeria forward Asisat Oshoala’s attempt.
Solo, a former Washington Huskies standout who plays for Seattle Reign FC, made two saves and posted her national-record 86th shutout. It was Solo’s seventh clean sheet in a World Cup match.
Nigeria keeper Precious Dede, who finished with six saves, had to punch away Megan Rapinoe’s 25-foot blast in the 17th minute.
Wambach finally put the United States ahead just before the end of the half when she rushed in on a corner kick from Reign FC player Rapinoe and volleyed the ball into the goal at the far post.
• Australia advanced after a 1-1 draw with Sweden.
In Group C, Japan beat Ecuador 1-0 and Cameroon defeated Switzerland 2-1.