Keeping Score

Women’s World Cup: Team USA Moves On to the Finals

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Ina Fassbender / Reuters

Players of the U.S. celebrate victory after the Women's World Cup semi-final soccer match against France in Monchengladbach, Germany

If America wins this World Cup, can we just bronze Abby Wambach’s head?

In the 79th minute of America’s World Cup semifinal against France, with the game tied 1-1 and France having applied heavy pressure on the U.S. defense — for a few minutes, a French go-ahead goal seemed inevitable — Wambach headed in a beautiful corner-kick, courtesy of the foot of Lauren Cheney, to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead. Three minutes later, Alex Morgan, who at 22 is the youngest player on the U.S. team, chipped in an insurance goal, giving the U.S. a 3-1 win, and its first trip to the World Cup final since 1999, the glory year.

(MORE: U.S Women’s Soccer: Cure For the Lockout Blues)

It was Wambach’s game-tying header against Brazil on Sunday, during extra time of the overtime session, which allowed the U.S. to survive this World Cup. Wednesday’s goal, Wambach’s third of the tournament, was another beauty. From the corner, Cheney, who scored the game’s first goal off a Heather O’Reilly cross in the ninth minute, lobbed the ball to the back post. French goalkeeper Bérangère Sapowicz, thinking she’d be able to punch it away, chased after the pass. But Cheney’s ball played a mind trick on Sapowicz. The French goalkeeper couldn’t reach it, and Wambach, who at 5’11” towers over most other players, snuck behind the defense to knock it in.

Going into this semifinal, the Americans needed to avoid a letdown. Sunday’s win was so magical, so emotionally draining — would the U.S. have anything left? The U.S., however, was supremely conditioned. For example Megan Rapinoe, who checked into the game in the 66th minute, offered a notable spark.

After Sunday’s game, though the U.S. had every reason to party hard, the the team doctor ordered the players take their ice baths and chill. They needed to stay hydrated. (Incidentally, that doctor, Scott Powell, was one of the founding members of Sha Na Na, the campy 1970s doo-wop band, and had a bit part in Caddyshack. Doctor Beeper would be proud).

The U.S. will face either Japan or Sweden, who also square off today, in Sunday’s final. That game will draw huge ratings. After the drama of these last two games, it’s official. America has fallen hard for women’s soccer  —  and Wambach’s noggin.

Sean Gregory is a staff writer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @seanmgregory. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

(LIST: Top 10 Moments of the 2010 World Cup (So Far))

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