Abby Wambach, the United States striker, scored the vital second goal against France to help her side reach tonight's World Cup final.
Abby Wambach, the United States striker, scored the vital second goal against France to help her side reach tonight's World Cup final.

Wambach to Wie, the big brothers are watching the girls grow in power



While the decades have flown by and humanity has evolved further and the girls and the women of the planet have become increasingly agile and proficient at various sports, a frequent and positive accomplice often goes overlooked.
Boys.
Yes, girls have grown stronger and tougher, but boys have grown stronger and tougher in a different way, in a manner more emotional than physical. The concept of girls as athletes has come to seem normal to them, failed to startle them, made them secure in including girls in their games, even if they do sneer from time to time.
From Abu Dhabi to Abby Wambach and all in between, you keep hearing a refrain: Well, I had brothers who really challenged me.
As the United States football sensation Wambach told Martin Rogers of Yahoo! Sports, her wise mother would lock the kids out of the house and leave them only the option of the outdoors. As the youngest of seven with athletic brothers, then, Wambach got a protracted toughening that included being stationed in goal to cope with flying street-hockey pucks.
By now you can observe her fluidity and strength at 31 and think only: athlete. Her game-saving goal with a header in the quarter-final against Brazil and her header to give the US the lead against France in the semi-final resulted from a talent deeply realised.
As the whole thing whooshes to its conclusion tonight in Germany with the final between Japan and the US, it will have begun in the yards and streets around home in New York state, taking a toughening from willing boys.
In much the same way, the subject came up last February when interviewing the ardent young women participating in a new Abu Dhabi women's football league. One by one they told of childhoods that featured football with brothers and male cousins, in a way they pegged as less prevalent in previous generations.
Hemyan Khalid Al Meriakhi remembered one other girl in the games, and said, "We were the last to be picked. We were kids. But they did like us. They wanted us to play."
"At first," recalled Mariam Al Omaira, "they thought I would let them get past me without tackling because I'm too scared to break a leg. But then I sort of started pushing them around and they got the point . They didn't treat me gingerly. I was, like, part of the team."
By young adulthood, at Camp Nou watching her beloved Barcelona, she had an unmistakable and - of course - unfulfilled urge to take the pitch and test her skills.
As boys on the various continents started playing sports with girls more in earnest, they helped unearth a fresh concept, one that might have hidden through the centuries but always existed: the idea of girls as fiercely competitive, as people with a craving for victory always familiar in men's games and glaringly apparent in the gruelling advancement of the US through this World Cup.
In one of the epitomes of that concept, some gifted young male golfers found themselves alongside a glowing talent one summer in Ohio.
In that amateur tournament, three men who played for their universities wound up in draw slots opposite one Michelle Wie, who at 15 then had become a routine entry in men's events, a method that ultimately did not work but which probably did prepare Wie uncommonly for the LPGA tour.
En route to the quarter-finals, Wie defeated all three, and I felt curious enough about their reaction to dial up each in the days following their ousters.
I wondered if, as in previous generations, they had undergone serious ribbing from friends over "losing to a girl". They had not. One or two friends had teased lightly, and some might even tease later on, but these male golfers and their friends and everyone concerned focused mainly on one topic: the calibre of the golf.
Said one, unprompted, "Her short game, it's perfect to me."
Said another, also unprompted, "Her short game is what really amazed me."
Said yet another, also unprompted, "Really good short game."
Evidently and overall, the steepest progress in the women's game had come in the short game, the part that demands the strength to control the club head.
Now, Wie had no brothers and, besides, golf is so lonely anyway, but she had come across a newfangled generation of guys who found the very idea of her rather humdrum except, of course, for that short game. A bit more than half a generation up from them live Wambach's brothers, all set to cheer tonight for the seventh-born they helped strengthen.

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