Abby Wambach comes up just short

FRANKFURT, Germany -- It almost didn't seem real. Abby Wambach, who had saved the United States in the quarterfinals and semifinals of this Women's World Cup, was standing on the field after the game in second place.

Once again, Wambach's brilliant aerial ability had given the United States an important late goal, but this time it wasn't enough to give the U.S. its third World Cup title.

"It's hard to believe, but this is the World Cup," Wambach said after the game. "This is sports. This is the way it goes."

Wambach, who scored four goals in the tournament -- one in each of the United States' last four games -- was also named the Silver Ball winner as the second-best player in the tournament. It's a well-deserved honor for a player who had come through time and time again for the United States in this, her third, World Cup.

"She has proven that she's a star. She was one of the best team players out there today," U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. "You would think a star should only look at herself and her performance, but I would say that she carried this team today. It was phenomenal. I'm very, very proud of Abby Wambach."

In the 104th minute, Wambach gave the United States a 2-1 lead when Alex Morgan's left-footed cross found her wide open just 6 yards from goal for an easy header. Much like the Brazil game, where Wambach's miracle header in the 122nd minute sent it to penalty kicks, and the semifinal win over France, when Wambach's head snapped a late 1-1 tie, it seemed as if Wambach was destined to be the hero again.

"I had no doubt. It's just the way this tournament's been going," midfielder Carli Lloyd said. "I just had no doubt in my mind that we were going to finish this off."

It was Wambach's 13th career World Cup goal, putting her just one behind Brazil's Marta and Germany's Birgit Prinz for most all time. It was her 122nd career goal in 163 international appearances.

"She's just Miss Clutch. She's scored the biggest goals on the biggest stage in this tournament, and that's been huge for us," said Megan Rapinoe, who assisted on Wambach's quarterfinal goal.

But Homare Sawa's game-tying goal in the 117th minute, a brilliant flick past goalkeeper Hope Solo with the outside of her right foot, pushed things to penalty kicks. It gently glanced off Wambach's shoulder before settling in the back of the net.

Destiny, which had seemed to be on the United States' and Wambach's side all tournament, seemed as though it had taken a turn toward Japan.

When the first three U.S. penalty kick takers failed to convert, it was Wambach who needed to score to keep the United States alive.

Once again, she came through for her team, but this time it only delayed Japan's joy for one more shooter. There was nothing more that Wambach could do. Japan won on its next penalty kick, and Wambach was left, once again, without a World Cup title.

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