VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) – Abby Wambach scored late in the first half and the U.S. women’s national team went on to beat Nigeria 1-0 on Tuesday night for a first-place finish in its group at the Women’s World Cup.
It was Wambach’s 14th World Cup goal, pulling her even with Birgit Prinz for second on the all-time list behind Brazil’s Marta, who has 15.
Wambach came off the bench for the United States in the team’s last match against Sweden. Tuesday, she started up top with Alex Morgan, who was making her first World Cup start in Canada after working her way back from a bone bruise in her left knee.
The United States, ranked second in the world behind Germany, has two World Cup titles, but hasn’t won since 1999.
Four years ago in Germany, the U.S. advanced to the final but fell to Japan on penalty kicks.
The win sent the United States through as the leader of its group for the sixth time in seven Women’s World Cups. The team heads to Edmonton, Alberta, for the first match of the knockout stage. The opponent has not been determined.
Nigeria, which has won seven of nine African championships, has been to every World Cup since it started for the women in 1991. The Super Falcons were eliminated after the loss to the United States after playing to a 3-all draw with Sweden in the opener and falling 2-0 to Australia.
The U.S. opened Group D with a 3-1 victory over No. 10 Australia, before playing to a 0-0 draw with No. 5 Sweden.
Morgan hadn’t started a match since April. The speedy 25-year-old played 12 minutes as a sub in the draw with Sweden.
Wambach also came in as a sub in the match against Sweden last Friday. It was the first time she had played off the bench at a World Cup since her first in 2003.
Wambach, who didn’t score in the first two U.S. group stage matches, had never gone without a goal in the opening round in four World Cup appearances.
Julie Johnston had the best chance for the United States early, but her strike in the eighth minute was ruled offside. Minutes later, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo dove to stop Nigeria forward Asisat Oshoala’s attempt.
Nigerian goalkeeper Precious Dede had to punch Megan Rapinoe’s long 25-foot blast in the 17th minute. Johnston battled to catch Oshoala on a fast break, sliding to deflect the ball as Solo charged.
Wambach finally put the United States ahead just before the end of the half when she rushed in on a corner kick from Megan Rapinoe and volleyed the ball into the goal at the far post.
Dede stopped a shot from an onrushing Morgan to open the second half.
A scary moment came when Wambach and Josephine Chukwunoye appeared to bump heads. Wambach got up quickly, but Chukwunoye – who got a yellow card on the play – was helped off but returned a few moments later.
Sydney Leroux, who grew up in the Vancouver area, replaced Morgan in the 65th minute. Leroux, who has an American father, left Canada as a teenager to pursue her goal of playing for the United States.
Nigeria, which was physical all game, was hurt when Sarah Nnodim was sent off with her second yellow of the night for a tackle on Leroux in the 69th minute. That put Nigeria at 10 players for the rest of the match.
Morgan, who has 51 goals in 84 international appearances, had not started in a match since April 11, the season opener for the Portland Thorns of the National Women’s Soccer League. Her last start for the United States came in a 4-0 victory over New Zealand in St. Louis, Missouri.
She wore pink tape on her knee during the match.
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