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Jan 7, 2013

Abby Wambach gets FIFA top honor

ZURICH -- As a young girl, Abby Wambach had pictures of Mia Hamm on her bedroom wall and got the American soccer star's autograph.

On Monday, Wambach joined Hamm and became the second American to be voted FIFA Women's World Player of the Year.

"I'm a little speechless to be honest when you say it like that," Wambach told The Associated Press backstage at the Zurich Kongresshaus. "It's humbling to know that the majority think you are one of the best in the world."

Pia Sundhage was voted top women's coach after leading Wambach and the U.S. team to the gold medal at last summer's London Games, the third straight Olympic title for the American women.

The 32-year-old Wambach, a native of Rochester, N.Y., received 20.67 percent of votes from national team coaches and captains and select media to edge teammate Alex Morgan (13.5) and five-time winner Marta of Brazil (10.87). Jill Ellis, who was interim U.S. coach last fall, voted Wambach first, as did Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, while American captain Christie Rampone voted Morgan first.

"Thank you for challenging me every day, Alex especially," Wambach told Morgan and Marta from the stage after receiving the trophy from teammate Hope Solo.

Only five women have won the award in its 12-year history.

Sundhage, who quit after the Olympics to coach her native Sweden, serenaded her former star players during her own acceptance speech.

"I'd be sad and blue if not for you," Sundhage, a big Bob Dylan fan, crooned to the forwards who "made her look good" by getting 55 goals for the team last year.

Sundhage got 28.59 percent of the vote to defeat Nono Sasaki of Japan (23.83) and Bruno Bini of France (9.02).

"Cristiano Ronaldo turned to me and said, `She's got a good voice," Wambach related. "I said: `I know."

For Wambach and her former coach, there was history and emotion in this triumphant final journey together to Zurich.

"She has a similar mindset to me," Wambach said. "This is a team award. She doesn't think she has been able to do it on her own."

Sundhage also sang some Dylan -- "The Times They Are a-Changin" -- on the first day she met the U.S. team more than five years ago. The coach had predicted then great things for her main forward.

"In 2011 it seemed like we were destined to win," Wambach said. "She was totally set on the fact that I was going to win the Player of the Year and we were going to win the World Cup and life would be great."

Yet Japan beat the U.S. in the 2011 Women's World Cup final and the FIFA awards went to Homare Sawa and coach Norio Sasaki.

"She was right but she was just a year off," Wambach stated.

Now, Sundhage has another prediction: Wambach will break Hamm's record for international goals. Wambach has 152, six shy of the mark.

"Abby does deserve it and she will get it," Sundhage said.

Wambach said Hamm "played a huge leadership role in my life." They were teammates at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and Wambach said Hamm never talked about her personal success.

Hamm was voted Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002 and finished second twice. Other Americans among the finalists include runners-up Tiffeny Milbrett (2001), Kristine Lilly (2006), and third-place finisher Shannon Boxx (2005).

"I hold Mia in the highest of regards," Wambach said. "I had pictures of her on my wall. She signed autographs when I was 10 years old."

Now Wambach wants to get back to work for new coach Tom Sermanni, and focus on winning the 2015 World Cup title in Canada. The Americans haven't won since 1999.

"I've been thinking about 2015 since standing on the London podium," she said. "I would give up all the personal awards that I have ever racked up. I will give up the FIFA Player of the Award in order to secure a world championship in 2015."

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