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Abby Wambach makes emotional farewell before U.S.-China match

Abby Wambach reacts during a presentation to her before the team’s friendly against China. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

For the past decade, Abby Wambach has been the linchpin of the U.S. women’s national team, a towering presence up front who became the world’s all-time leader in goals in international play. On Wednesday, the final game of the USWNT’s World Cup Victory Tour also served as the last international appearance for the 35-year-old forward, and she received a sendoff worthy of her remarkable career.

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Before a raucous crowd at the Superdome in New Orleans, where the U.S. took on China in a friendly, Wambach made an emotional farewell. When the USWNT took the field before the match, she gave every member of her team a hug.

The public address announcer proceeded to list just some of her long string of career accomplishments, concluding by exclaiming that “her impact will never be forgotten!” Then it was time to pose for some photos and stand with her teammates for introductions, at which point thousands in attendance at the Superdome chanted, “Abby Wam-bach! Abby Wam-bach!”

Wambach came into the game with 184 goals, the most ever scored in international play by a man or woman, including 77 off of headers, her signature skill. She first appeared with the USWNT in 2001 and has starred for the team in four World Cups, winning her first this summer, and two Olympics, winning gold medals both times.

In the 72nd minute against China, Wambach was taken off the field for a substitute, and the game paused as she left the field while saluting the crowd. Before heading to the sideline, Wambach first took off her captain’s arm band, and then she removed her shoes, signaling that she had strapped on boots in the name of her country for the final time.

Earlier on Wednesday, Nike released a video in which several other U.S. soccer players spoke about what Wambach meant to them. There can be no doubt that Wednesday marked the final performance on the world stage of a giant in her sport.