There can be no doubt that Abby Wambach deserves her reputation as one of the best players in the world. Her aura, coupled with her explosiveness in front of goal and an immensely powerful shot rightly make her one of the most feared forwards in the women’s game.
“I have been playing soccer my whole life. I come from a very athletic family,” Wambach said of her early years in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “Ever since I can remember I was touring around the US and I was lucky enough to start playing in the Olympic development programme back in the late '80s, early '90s. Ever since I began watching April Heinrichs and Michelle Akers I dreamed of being in the national team.
“I didn’t really think it was a possibility until I got into college and university," the 32-year-old continued. "It was the time when April Heinrichs was the national team coach. She saw me play and thought that my abilities might help our team win. That’s kind of how I got started.”
Awareness of responsibility
Much has changed in women’s football since Wambach made her senior international debut on 9 September 2001. Not least that the player has herself become a role model for young girls to look up to, and it is a position she is well aware of.
“I don’t call this a 'role model' tag, I don’t think of it as a pressure. I think of it as a responsibility,” Wambach added. “We have all been given special gifts and we play this game at a high level. Not everybody is given these kinds of gifts, so you really have to be smart and make the right decisions, so that the people who come behind you have a better chance than you had. This has been my goal when I first signed on and became a women’s national team player - to hopefully leave the game better than I found it.”
Wambach has scored 138 goals in 181 appearances for her country, the most recent of which she made at the Volvo Winners Cup in Sweden. In preparation for the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012, USA met FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011™ third-place play-off winners Sweden as well as world champions Japan in a round-robin tournament. After brushing both aside - 3-1 and 4-1 respectively - USA made it clear that they are ready to secure their third consecutive Olympic title.
USA are the standard-bearers when it comes to women’s Olympic football, which has been part of the summer games since 1996. The Stars and Stripes have contested the final each time and only had to settle for silver in Sydney 2000.
At Athens 2004, Wambach got her first experience of winning a gold medal and being the focal point of an entire nation’s passionate support. Injury forced her to sit out the Beijing 2008 games, however, leaving her even more eager for success this time around.
“At the World Cup you are wholly on your own, we're the only team from the United States there and it’s our tournament,” Wambach said. “Whereas at the Olympics there is a bunch of different teams fighting for many different gold medals.
"Obviously at the Olympics you are playing not for just your specific team and delegation, you are playing for your country. There is nothing like playing for an Olympic team. We all grow up watching the Olympics, both winter and summer sports. Nothing is like watching your flag rise and having a gold medal round your neck. I hope to experience that again.”
Going for gold
The chances of that happening look good, especially on the back of USA’s displays at the Volvo Winners Cup, where Wambach once again showed her keen eye for goal. That said, the striker does not believe that makes them automatic favourites.
“Japan are the current world champions, so I would say they are the favourites. We have won the last two Olympics and we think that Japan won something last summer that we wanted. So we are going to do anything to win gold.”
Wambach has no problem putting aside individual glory in order to achieve triumph as a team. “2011 was the year of second place for me,” Wambach laughs. “Silver Ball and second place at the World Cup. I want 2012 to be about the gold medal and want to be standing at the top of that podium. Personally, I don’t care what happens or how many goals I score. But if my team is at the top of the podium at the end, I would be a happy camper.”