CHENGDU, China (AFP) - Strike sensation Abby Wambach led women's football heavyweights the United States to an emphatic 2-0 victory over European powerhouse Sweden at the World Cup here Friday.
Wambach, playing in her 98th international, scored both goals for the Americans to rip the heart out of the Swedes who are gunning for their first World Cup title after finishing runner-up in 2003.
The victory means the United States, two-time champions and world number ones, hit the top of Group B and are almost certain of reaching the quarter-finals, with only Nigeria left to play at the group stage.
"I'm so proud of my players, we knew this was potentially an elimination match against Sweden," said coach Greg Ryan.
Both sides were desperate to win and secure the three points after drawing their opening encounters in a group considered the toughest of the tournament.
The US drew 2-2 with Asian number ones North Korea earlier this week, while Sweden drew 1-1 with Nigeria, seen as the weakest of the four teams.
Wambach, who suffered a bloodied head in the first match that needed stitches, struck in the 34th minute by cooly converting a penalty past goal goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.
Swedish defender Stina Segerstrom had seconds earlier brought down Lori Chalupny as she chased down a looping ball just metres from the goal.
Hungarian referee Gyoengyi Gaal had no hesitation in handing Segerstrom a yellow card and pointing to the spot.
Wambach then nailed victory for the Americans by chesting down inside the box a pinpoint pass from captain Kristine Lilly in the 58th minute, and unleashing a bullet from her left foot past a diving Lindahl.
"It's one of those goals that, as a forward, you say 'yeah I meant to put it exactly where it went', but in this type of situation I just hit it as hard as I could and it went in," Wambach said.
As the minutes ticked down, the Swedes launched a wave of counter attacks, spearheaded by tenacious forward Hanna Ljungberg, playing in her 122nd international.
Ljungberg, who once received an invitation to play for the Serie A men's side Perugia but turned it down, almost scored in the 79th minute when she connected with a cross but her shot went wide.
The Swedes kept coming but were unable to find a way through the solid American defence, superbly marshalled by Cat Whitehill and veteran Christie Rampone.
"Of course everyone is disappointed but this group is still alive and we are going to take a chance to get through to the quarter-final," Ljungberg said.
Swedish coach Thomas Dennerby said despite the loss, he was extremely proud of his charges, as they try to regroup for their match on Tuesday against North Korea in the faint hope of reaching the knockout stage.
"We showed a lot of spirit and we were very powerful today and did our very, very best," Dennerby said.
"When you start the game, there is one thing you can tell your players, that you want them to do the work all the way, 90, 92, 93 minutes and they really really tried."
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