Abby Wambach’s Final World Cup Game: A Win, A Kiss, A Goodbye [Video]

Abby Wambach minced no words as she prepared for her final FIFA Women’s World Cup appearance Sunday. She wanted a win. And as the USWNT came out hard, scoring four goals in 16 minutes of play against a stunned Japanese team, it was clear that Wambach’s drive and determination had worn off onto the 11 field players.

As Wambach took the pitch in the last minutes of the game, the level of respect for a player of Wambach’s caliber was apparent as fellow teammate Carli Lloyd symbolically placed the captain’s band on her arm and Japanese players shook her hand. As the referee signaled the end of the game, Wambach quickly celebrated victory with her fellow teammates before searching the stands for her wife, leaping up to her for an embrace and a kiss. Wambach’s kiss even sparked a hashtag of its own on social media.

Abby Wambach began playing for the USWNT in 2001, just two years following their epic World Cup win over China. As the leading international scorer, Wambach led a decorated career with two gold medals and multiple outstanding player recognitions, but it was the World Cup itself that continued to elude her — until July 5, 2015.

While some say Wambach’s role had been diminished for this World Cup, a more proper definition of Wambach’s position would be to say she evolved. Rather than being a lead scorer this time around, especially considering Wambach only scored one goal the entire stretch of games and in fact even missed a penalty kick in the early rounds, it was Wambach’s leadership and motivation that have been touted by her fellow teammates.

“When she (Wambach) is on the field, you just feel like you’re going to be okay. That’s the type of presence that she brings,” said teammate Ali Krieger.

“Abby’s energy and leadership has been a wonderful thing to be a part of,” noted Heather O’Reilly, “Her willingness to lead this team through good times and bad has just been impressive.”

As Abby Wambach prepared for what she had announced earlier would be her final World Cup game, she recorded an emotional goodbye to her teammates and fans. Wambach, fearing she would cry, even cleared the room of the camera crew as she began to record her words of praise, gratitude, and wisdom. Not knowing if she would be coming home a world champion, Wambach made one thing clear — she had the time of her life playing.

And given the fact that more than 25 million viewers tuned in to watch the World Cup final game, a larger television audience than that of the NBA or Stanley Cup finals, it would appear that thanks to Abby Wambach and her USWNT teammates, Americans had the time of their lives too.

Watch Abby Wambach’s emotional “goodbye” here.

[Image courtesy of Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images]