July 10, 1999. That was the day that women’s soccer took the world’s stage. It was the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, and the scene was the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. President Bill Clinton was among the 90,185 that packed the stadium to see if they could witness the United States Women’s National Team make history in person. It was the third edition of the Women’s World Cup, but the first time a host nation had made the final. And, it was one where the USWNT wanted to put on a show.
Standing in their way was China, a team that had emerged as one of the dominant women’s soccer nations over the years preceding that Women’s World Cup. This was not going to be easy for the USWNT to win. China was a strong team, arguably the strongest in the world, and they were ready for a battle.
The match was a stalemate that left fans with their hearts in their throats several times on both sides. The best chance for either team came in extra time, where a terrific header chance for China off a corner kick was famously saved off the line by Kristine Lilly. It kept the Americans alive.
The match ended after extra time still scoreless, and it would be penalties that decided a champion. Xie Huilin, Carla Overbeck, Qiu Haiyan, and Joy Fawcett converted the first sets of kicks for both China and the USWNT. Liu Ying stepped up to the spot to take kick #3 for China. But, it’s saved miraculously by legendary goalkeeper Brianna Scurry.
Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm both convert for the U.S., while Zhang Ouying and Sun Wen kept China in it. It all came down to Brandi Chastain at the penalty spot for the victory. She converts, and a celebration for the ages ensued.
That moment is one that lives forever in sports history. Chastain rips her jersey off and falls to her knees, triumphant, and then leaps to her feet as her teammates mobbed her. The USWNT had won their 2nd Women’s World Cup, and women’s soccer was officially on the map in the United States. The 99ers, as they would famously be called, sparked an entire generation of women’s athletes. However, their achievement rests among the best moments in sports history.
Today, the USWNT begins its quest to qualify for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. They have a chance to defend their 2015 title and create their own iconic moment. FIFA may not give the Women’s World Cup the stage it had back in 1999, but the world will be watching. Hopefully next summer, 20 years after the 1999 Women’s World Cup victory, we’ll be able to celebrate a 4th star over the U.S. Soccer crest.
Check out the video below if you wish to relive the penalty shootout and party again like it’s 1999.