BRITISH COLUMBIA

Abby Wambach finally captures Women's World Cup with win over Japan in final

07/05/2015 11:34 EDT | Updated 07/05/2016 05:59 EDT
VANCOUVER - When the final whistle blew on Sunday, Abby Wambach fell to her knees, then raised her arms in joy.

The one trophy that had always seemed just out of reach was finally in her grasp as the United Status defeated Japan 5-2 in the Women's World Cup final.

"I'm proud to be part of something that, in my opinion, is really special," Wambach said.

During her career, the 35-year-old forward had won two Olympic gold medals and was the FIFA women's player of the year in 2012. But, she had never won a World Cup — until now.

"I've meant it all along, I'd give up all my individual awards for what we just did tonight," said Wambach. "It's the whole-hearted truth.

"Watching my team win a World Cup, I chose that over world player of the year, scoring more goals than anybody in the world."

With golden confetti swirling and the crowd roaring, a beaming Wambach raised the trophy and danced on stage with her teammates. She was stunned the U.S. led 3-0 with the game just five minutes old.

"The first 15 or 16 minutes seemed surreal," said Wambach. "It seemed fake.

"I (kept) thinking I have died and this is what my heaven looks like."

Wambach started the match as a substitute but entered the game in the 79th minute. That produced a huge cheer from the crowd of 53,341 at B.C. Place Stadium.

After the game Wambach was mobbed by her teammates. She ran to the corner of the stadium and reached into the crowd to hug her long-time partner Sarah Huffman, who she married in 2013.

Wambach announced earlier in the tournament that this would be her final Women's World Cup. She isn't expected to play on the U.S. team competing at next summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

While Wambach celebrated, Japanese veteran Homare Sawa consoled her teammates. The 36-year-old attacking midfield subbed into the game in the 33rd minute with Japan trailing 4-1.

Wambach and Sawa collided in the 82nd minute and both players crashing to the turf. Sawa was given a yellow card on the play.

Later, outside the team dressing rooms, the two women shared a hug.

Sawa, who played in her first international game at the age of 15, has appeared in five World Cups and four Olympics. She was the women's player of the year in 2011 when she led Japan to its first World Cup, beating the U.S. in the final. She also helped her country win a silver at the 2012 Olympics.

During her career, Wambach scored 183 goals for the U.S. in 248 international games, more than any other player male or female. Her last goal in a World Cup game came in a 1-0 win over Nigeria on June 16 in Vancouver.

The Rochester, N.Y., native played her college soccer for the Florida Gators, where she was a three-time all-American. She has been a regular on the U.S. women's team since 2003.

Wambach has never been afraid to speak her mind.

She helped lead a group of more than 60 international female players who filed a lawsuit against FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association over the use of artificial turf at the World Cup. The players dropped the lawsuit but during the tournament Wambach suggested she might have scored two goals on headers if the game had been played on grass.

During the tournament she also apologized after criticizing a French referee following a U.S. game in Ottawa.

Wambach smiled when asked how the Americans would celebrate the win.

"This is going to be one of those fun nights," she said.