Vancouver - Coach Jill Ellis hailed the 'tremendous' contribution of veteran Abby Wambach after her volley dumped Nigeria and put the United States through to the last 16 of the Women's World Cup as Group D leaders on Tuesday.
The 35-year-old's goal means the Olympic champions take on one of the best third-placed finishers in Edmonton next Monday rather than flying thousands of kilometers to the east coast to face Brazil in Moncton.
"Jokingly, I thought when I took the job (of coach in May 2014) if Abby has one leg, she is going to make this roster because she embodies a lot of the spirit of this team and our programme," said Ellis said.
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"Her leadership is tremendous. Her spirit is fantastic. So when I met with her early, I said, 'Listen, I have not predetermined your role. Your role will be as big as you deliver.'
"You can't discount the goal it was fantastic."
It was Wambach's 183rd for the 'Stars and Stripes' and 14th in a World Cup, just one shy of Brazil star Marta's record.
It came in front of a passionate 53,000-plus crowd of largely US fans at BC Place Stadium.
Wambach's volley came just before half-time off a Megan Rapinoe set-piece corner after Julie Johnston had an earlier effort ruled offside.
"I know Abby, I know big moments she'll deliver. I was just pleased with the investment tonight," said Englishwoman Ellis.
Wambach's presence was desperately needed after the 1991 and 1999 champions followed on from their promising opening 3-1 win over Australia with a goalless draw to Sweden.
"This was a big game for us to get a result and experience is a key part of that decision," said Ellis.
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"I would say Abby is at her peak fitness. Tonight I knew I wanted to get 90 (minutes) out of her, we did that; we'll work hard on the recovery," she said.
"We're battle tested and are confident now we are coming out of that. This game could give them a boost in terms of what they're capable of doing."
The USA finish top of Group D -- dubbed the 'Group of Death' -- with seven points, ahead of Australia with four, with Sweden on three and Nigeria on one.
Australia advance in second place after holding Sweden 1-1 with the Scandinavians awaiting their fate following Wednesday's final group games.
'Lucky to win'
Nigeria were playing without suspended defender Ugo Njoku and played the last 20 minutes on ten after Sarah Nnodim was sent off for a second yellow card following a challenge on Rapinoe.
Coach Edwin Okon was not impressed with the goal or the Americans.
"I don't think they (USA) were very good -- it was a lack of concentration on our part," said Okon who refused to shake Ellis's hand after the game.
"They were just lucky to win today. She (Wambach) only got that goal because of a lack of concentration from our defence."
Nigeria, who have won nine of the eleven African championships so far, once again head home early from the World Cup having just gotten behind the knockout round once in 1999.
Ellis said: "I typically always go and shake the coach's hand. The bench personnel shook my hand. I said (to Okon), 'You're not going to shake my hand?' He said, 'No.' He kind of put his hand out a little bit. That's his call, not mine.
"I was pleased with how we played and pleased to be moving out of a tough, tough group."