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The Toe Poke
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By ESPN Staff

Wambach ready to go despite toe injury

SHANGHAI, China -- Abby Wambach says her big toe is ready to go, greatly enhancing the prospects for a United States women's national team hoping to put its best foot forward in group play at the upcoming World Cup and avoid a potential quarterfinal encounter with defending champion Germany.

Wambach injured her toe during a collision with an opponent early in the first half of a game against Finland on Aug. 25 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the final warmup for the United States before it departed for China. She attempted to continue playing for several minutes after the collision but was in obvious pain before coming off for a substitute in the 27th minute.

Although there were initial concerns that the toe on her right foot was broken, X-rays revealed no serious damage that would prevent Wambach from playing through any lingering pain, as she did with an ankle injury during last fall's Gold Cup.

"Abby is doing very well," United States coach Ryan said on Wednesday of the team's leading scorer with 11 goals this year. "She's still sore, but she's playing; she's playing all the minutes in training now. She looks good on the field, so I think she'll be fine. Once the games come around, that adrenaline kicks in and she should be just fine."

Wambach looked the part of her coach's assessment while walking with no discernible sign of a limp or any kind of protective boot at the team hotel in Shanghai, the city in which the team opened training before shifting to Chengdu to prepare for its opening game against North Korea on Sep. 11. For her part, she said her initial reaction, alluding to a report that she told trainers on the bench she thought the toe might be broken, had more to do with a sense of frustration over the prospect of playing through pain than a fear of the injury knocking her out of the World Cup altogether.

"Regardless of the outcome of what the X-ray or what the doctor's would say, I was going to play anyway," Wambach said. "So I never was really fearful; I was just upset. I didn't want to have to go into this tournament hurting, but that's life. Things happen and I'm going to be fine."

One positive for the United States was the offense it created against Finland after Wambach left the field. All four U.S. goals came after Carli Lloyd replaced Wambach, including goals from Kristine Lilly, Heather O'Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley, the other top forwards on Ryan's final roster. In the nine games immediately preceding the Finland game, Wambach scored 11 of the team's 31 goals, including seven of 14 goals against top World Cup contenders Sweden, Canada, China, Brazil and Norway.

"We have great depth on this team," Ryan said. "We know that if a player goes down, we've got players that can step in and get the job done. Of course Abby is a player you don't want to have to try and do without in a World Cup, so we're very happy she's back and playing well. But I think it gives confidence to the whole team that we can do well if a player can't be in for a portion of a game."

Ryan may ultimately get a rare opportunity to rest Wambach, who played at least 82 minutes in all 10 starts before the Finland game this year, if the United States can pull away against either North Korea or Sweden or clinch the top spot in Group B before the final game against Nigeria on Sep. 18, but there is ample reason for the team to focus its resources on playing for first place rather than simply advancing.

If both the United States and Germany finish first in their respective groups (the defending champs are in what many have described as the easiest group, drawn with England, Argentina and Japan), they would not meet before a potential showdown in the championship game on Sep. 30 in Shanghai. But should one of them finish first and the other second in group play, they would play in the quarterfinals.

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com's soccer coverage. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.