In November 1991, FIFA held its first-ever Women’s World Cup tournament, and eleven teams traveled to China with the dream of becoming FIFA’s first women’s world champion. Among those teams were the United States Women’s National Team, a team loaded with talent from across the country that were viewed as one of the favorites to win the newly enacted tournament.
The team blew through the group stage, beating Sweden, Brazil, and Japan, which today would be a murderer’s row of teams. In the quarterfinals, they destroyed Chinese Taipei 7-0 and then defeated Germany in the semifinals, 5-2. That got them to a final in Guangzhou against Norway, who had a tough team and also had the firepower to score goals quickly. However, throughout all the stars, one emerged as the world’s first great superhero in the women’s game: Michelle Akers. Michelle Akers dazzled throughout the whole tournament, but really turned it on when it mattered most. In the 20th minute, off a Shannon Higgins free kick, Akers skied to head a rocket down past Norwegian goalkeeper Reidun Seth for goal one.
Norway only needed 9 more minutes to equalize, a Linda Medalen goal being the one that pulled them even. It remained that way until the 78th minute, when Akers muscled off a defender on a long ball and beat the keeper to the ball inside the box, calmly sneaking the ball around the keeper and then collecting herself before finishing the play by passing the ball into the net. Norway tried desperately to grab another equalizer, but they couldn’t do it. The whistle blew for full time, and the USWNT threw their hands in the air in victory, 2-1 winners over Norway and the first Women’s World Cup champions.
1991 was the start of a fantastic history for the USWNT in the Women’s World Cup. They have also famously hoisted the trophy in 1999 and 2015. As they prepare for their final tuneup before World Cup qualifying begins in October, they try to get the details worked out to start on the road to a possible fourth Women’s World Cup. That road started in China 17 years ago, and Michelle Akers led the way.