Abby announces her arrival

  • Abby Wambach pictured scoring her first FIFA Women’s World Cup goal in 2003

  • USA’s all-time leading scorer would go on to score 14 at the global finals

  • But this 2015 world champion blamed herself for the team’s failure in ‘03

Abby Wambach’s relationship with the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ developed into a tumultuous love story. Like so many tales of that genre, it had a happy ending, with the USA legend belatedly becoming a world champion at the age of 35.

But there was plenty of heartbreak in between that moment and the one captured in the image above: Wambach’s first Women’s World Cup goal. This 2003 strike came against Nigeria as USA – hosts, holders and heavy favourites – cruised to a 5-0 victory. In the two matches that followed at this, her debut World Cup, Wambach added two more to fire the Stars & Stripes into the semi-finals. By the end of the year, she would be picking up the first of six US Soccer Athlete of the Year awards.

Yet 2003 holds painful memories for the big striker, who blamed herself for Kerstin Garefrekes’ headed opener in USA’s last-four duel with Germany – and the shock 3-0 defeat that followed. "In my opinion, the reason we lost to Germany was because my mark scored the first goal on the corner kick," Wambach later reflected.

"I felt responsible. After '99, it being the next World Cup in the US, regardless of circumstances, I was the one piece that was different from '99. But that World Cup ended up being a good thing as that failure definitely shaped the success of my career later on. I remember [the German players] running around so happy for so long. She (USA coach April Heinrichs) saw me watching. She said, 'Come on, let's go inside,' and I said, 'No, I want to remember this'."

The pain of that experience spurred Wambach to become one of the greatest players ever to grace the USA shirt, and the Women’s World Cup. Her last goal at the global finals in 2015 – which came, like her first, against Nigeria – was her 14th. Only Marta (15) has more.

Wambach also ended her stellar career as USA’s all-time leading scorer with 184 goals, setting a world record for female and male players that stands to this day. Next year’s Women’s World Cup will be the first since 1999 that the Americans will need to face without their long-time talisman, and filling her goalscoring shoes is sure to be a gargantuan challenge.

Did you know? It wasn’t the colour that Wambach wanted, but a bronze medal from her debut Women’s World Cup is on show at the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.