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Wambach gobbled up the competition

FOXBOROUGH -- Abby Wambach is probably a very nice person. She smiles a lot and looks right at you when she talks to you.

But on the soccer field, the 6-foot forward scowls a lot, and spends a lot of time looking at the ground as she tumbles on the field, taking hits from the opposing team, or making hits herself.

Wambach provided all the offense her team needed last night at Gillette Stadium, as the US defeated Norway, 1-0, to advance to the semifinals in the Women's World Cup.

When she came off the field, sweating but smiling, and was asked how bruised she felt, Wambach just grinned and shrugged.

"It's a tough game, and these are the things that ice is for," she said. "But, you know, I love it that way. It's all with your heart, and if you're not willing to go out there and play with your heart and leave it all on the field, then you don't deserve to wear the jersey."

Wambach looked like a fast-moving, Pac-Man character as she ran down the left flank, dived after the ball, and headed it in the direction of the goal. She was called for one foul, and suffered four.

Coach April Heinrichs was effusive in her praise of Wambach.

"I said to her after the game, that was the best game of her life, and she did it for 90 minutes," said Heinrichs. "She just worked her rear end off for us and left everything on the field tonight, but I think she has a little more left in the tank."

Heinrichs said Wambach didn't seem to mind being targeted for the entire game, either.

"We always talked about ice in her veins, and she really kept her cool," Heinrichs said. "She was being grabbed and groped and all kinds of things."

Norwegian coach Age Steen acknowledged that his team tried to stop Wambach, to no avail.

"We tried to take her out in the box, like ice hockey, but it was very difficult to stop her," he said.

Wambach deflected credit for her team's lone score to a teammate.

"It was the perfect kick," she said of the ball that teammate Cat Reddick served up to her on a free kick in the 24th minute. "I got myself in a position close to the goal, kind of like a post position in basketball, and it flicked off my head. But like I said before, it's all about the serve."

Still, she was beaming.

"That was a great goal, probably the biggest goal of my career," she said. "It was a physical game, Norway brings out the best in us. But that's my style."

Wambach headed another ball that went just over the crossbar in the 33d minute, and ran into, and flattened, Norway defender Ane Stangeland in the 70th minute.

However she could try to score, she would do it.

"Whenever you get a chance to get a goal you do it, whether it's with your foot or your head," Wambach said. "And that's more confidence you're building for the rest of the game. Maybe it hits the post, hits the crossbar, but what matters is in between the posts and underneath the crossbar."

Wambach, who grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Florida, was drafted by Washington of the WUSA in 2002. She was named Rookie of the Year, and this year was tied for the league lead in scoring with 33 points (13 goals, 7 assists).

Tiffeny Milbrett, who will be 31 this month, is in her third World Cup, but said that Wambach, 23 and playing in her first World Cup, doesn't play like a rookie.

"I think Abby is an incredible player who is just hitting her stride," said Milbrett. "She's so skilled and talented in all areas, and it makes her a very dangerous player. And I've seen that potential for a few years."

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