In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The United States wins the Women’s World Cup by beating China in a shootout at the Rose Bowl. It was a big tournament for Women’s Soccer as the third edition of the tournament finally got some media attention. The Americans, who won the first tournament in China in 1991, scored a dramatic second win as Brandi Chastain ripped off her shirt in what has become an iconic moment in Women’s Sport.
To say that early editions of the Women’s World Cup were held in secret would be an understatement. The first tournament in 1991 was essentially a trial run and did not even carry the name of the Women’s World Cup as it was called the M&M’s Cup in China. The United States was hardly known on the Men’s side as a soccer power won the tournament, beating Norway in the Final 2-1. The scant television coverage was overnight on Sports Channel America.
Four years later, the tournament was officially called the Women’s World Cup as Norway beat Team USA in the semifinals on the way to beating Germany for the championship in Sweden. If possible, there was even fewer media coverage as ESPN2 aired just games involving Team USA. However, the tournaments had some success, which opened the door to Women’s Soccer being included in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. There Team USA captured the Gold Medal and helped make more fans interested in Women’s Soccer.
The 1999 Women’s World Cup would change everything as the tournament was expanded from 12 to 16 teams, and had full coverage on all of ESPN networks, with the event held in the United States for the first time. Still, there was doubt over the viability of Women’s Soccer so most games were played as doubleheaders, giving fans two games with the hopes of filling large American Football stadiums.
Team USA who had won the 1991 tournament and took third place in 1995, was considered the home favorite and easily won their group, by going 3-0 with a combined score of 13-1, with Nigeria also qualifying for the knockout round. In Group B, Brazil and Germany excelled while Italy and Mexico disappointed. Defending champion Norway won Group C, with Russia also having a strong performance. In Group D it was China a strong high scoring team that impressed as they went 3-0 with Sweden qualifying second.
Team USA ran into trouble in the quarterfinals against Germany as Brandi Chastain had an own goal that put them down early as they played in Washington, with President Bill Clinton and his family in attendance. Down 2-1 at the half, Team USA needed a strong second half to advance to the semifinals with a 3-2 win. Brazil meanwhile needed overtime to beat Nigeria 4-3. In the other quarterfinal doubleheader, it was Norway beating Sweden 3-1 and China blacking Russia 2-0 in San Jose.
The semifinals would take place on Independence Day in Foxboro Stadium with China looking every bit like the team to beat as they demolished defending champion Norway 5-0. Team USA meanwhile survived a tough battle with Brazil 2-0, as goaltender Briana Scurry had to make three big saves to keep them in front when the game was 1-0.
As with the entire tournament games were typically held as doubleheaders and the third-place match, saw Norway beat Brazil on penalties 5-4 as neither team was able to score in 90 minutes or overtime.
By the time the Women’s World Cup Final arrived, Team USA had captured the country’s attention, as they faced a tough team from China that looked like the best team on the field. That day 90,185 fans were in attendance, the largest crowd ever for a women’s sporting event at sun-drenched Rose Bowl in Pasadena to witness history in the making. By now, China and the USA had become bitter rivals. Team USA beat China for the Gold in the 1996 Olympics but China had the momentum winning the Algrave Cup earlier in 1999. All eyes were on the stars of each team Mia Hamm from Team USA and Sun Wen who had seven goals in the tournament on the way to winning the Golden Boot.
The game itself was a battle of attrition as both teams played tight as not wanting the other to get the first goal. This led it to become a battle of defense as no team was able to score in regulation. In extra time, China seemed to get the best scoring chance and came close to winning the game on a header by Fan Yunjie. However, Briana Scurry kept the game tied as a shootout was needed to determine the winner.
China shot first and was successful as on a shot by Xie Huilin. Carla Warden Overbeck with all the weight in the world on her shoulders successfully answered for the Americans. In round two, Qiu Haiyan also was successful for China, Joy Lynn Fawcett answering to keep the game a stalemate. Finally, in the third round, Team USA got an opening as Scurry made the save on a shot from Liu Ying. Kristine Marie Lilly made good on that opportunity by hitting her shot past China’s keeper Gao Hong. Now with all the pressure on China, it was Zhang Ouying scoring in the fourth round, while Mia Hamm answered to put Team USA on the verge of victory. Sun Wen kept the pressure on by scoring in the fifth round, setting up Brandi Chastain to be the hero. As soon as she hit the ball, Chastain knew she had a goal as she ripped off her shirt in what has become an iconic celebration.
Team USA’s victory at the 1999 Women’s World Cup seemed to begin a new era for Women’s sport as the image of Brandi Chastain’s victory celebration seemed to quickly become a liberating moment as opened the door for more coverage and endorsement opportunities. Sports Illustrated would name the team Sportsperson of the year as Women’s Soccer would go into the next generation with an explosion in popularity that helped lift the tournament and being growing Soccer in the USA along with all Women’s sport.