Brandi Chastain leaps into the arms of teammate Carla Overbeck after converting the winning penalty kick against China in the Women’s World Cup final. (Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY)
This story was published in U.S. Women’s Soccer Magazine and Soccer New York about the Women’s World Cup final July 10, 1999 and is used with permission
By Michael Lewis
PASADENA, Calif. – After she had won it for the United States, defender Brandi Chastain admitted she had lost it.
Seconds after connecting for the game-winning goal in the penalty-kick shootout against China, Chastain ripped off her shirt and whipped it around in celebration.
“Momentary insanity,” she said after romping around the field in her black sports bra and game shorts.
She can be forgiven for her lapse, considering the U.S. had put an exclamation point to a wonderful and unforgettable three weeks by capturing the Women’s World Cup on July 12.
Chastain and her U.S. teammates survived 120 minutes of scoreless soccer in regulation and extra time in the heat, the loss of defensive midfielder Michelle Akers to heat exhaustion and a tenacious Chinese side before prevailing in the tie-breaker, 5-4.
She turned out to be one of several heroes at the Rose Bowl in front of President Clinton and a crowd of 90,185, the largest to witness a women’s sporting event worldwide.
There was Briana Scurry, the goalkeeper who stopped Liu Ying’s penalty-kick attempt in the tie-breaker, which turned into the decisive moment.
There were Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm, who all connected on theirs to secure the victory.
And again there was Lilly, whose header save of Chinese defender Fan Yunjie’s seven-yard shot during injury time in regulation ensured the U.S. would have a chance at victory later on.
“She finds ways and invents ways to win games,” coach Tony DiCicco said.
The match, hyped as a confrontation between two attacking sides, fell short of expectations, although the tension and drama could not be matched as the game wore on.
“The game was back and forth,” DiCicco said. “At times we had the advantage. In overtime, I thought they were going to put one in against us. . . . It came down to them not allowing us to lose. It’s a storybook ending to a team that will go down in history.”
No one will argue with that. The Americans have captured three of the four major women’s international tournaments of the decade. That included the very first Women’s World Cup in China in 1991, the gold medal at the 1996 Olympics and now this. The only aberration was a third-place finish at the ’95 Cup in Sweden.
In fact, the U.S. also became the first team to recapture a title and the first country to hold the Olympic and World Cup crowns at the same time.
Scurry, a member of that 1996 team that beat China in the final, had an opportunity to frustrate the Asians again.
Leading off the tie-breaker, Xie Hullin placed her shot to the left of Scurry for a 1-0 China lead. But Overbeck tied it, putting her attempt to the let of Gao Hong. Qiu Haiyan fired her shot to the upper left, but Fawcett equalized.
Up stepped Liu for the Chinese.
“I had a feeling when she was walking that I could get that one,” said Scurry, who had an relatively easy match until the penalties. “It was in her body language. I went entirely on instinct.”
She guessed right, diving to her left to knock the ball away. Lilly then fired her attempt into the upper left corner and the U.S. led, 3-2.
Zhang Ouying beat Scurry to the lower right. Hamm, however, blasted her shot into the lower right corner as the Americans still led, 4-3, after four rounds.
In the fifth and what was to be the deciding round, Sun Wen, China’s best player, tucked her shot into the right corner.
Up stepped Chastain, who has faced pressure before in the tournament, going from a goat to a hero (own goal and then a U.S. goal) in the 3-2 quarterfinal victory over Germany.
Unlike Scurry, Chastain didn’t go by a gut feeling, but by some coaching instructions.
“Tony told me about changing to my left foot,” said Chastain, who missed a penalty against Hong with her right foot in an earlier loss. “I didn’t look at Gao. Sometimes she likes to smile at you to make you feel uncomfortable.”
She calmly stepped up to the penalty spot and using her left foot, launched a shot that was heard around the women’s sports world into the upper right corner.
Then all hell broke loose.
“My God, this is the greatest moment of my life on a soccer field,” she said. “I just lost control, I guess.”