As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, and the packed stadium of over 90,000 fans erupted in deafening shouts and applause, it felt as though all of the fighting, the stresses, the sacrifice, and the strain was well worth it. Nobody had believed in them at the beginning of their journey, but they had never stopped believing in themselves and their mission, and by the end, they had a whole country behind them cheering as they raised the prized, golden trophy.
The road that led to the 1999 Women’s World Cup final was littered with controversy and challenges that only a group of women who believed in their very important mission could handle. They were given very little money, and for a period they chose not to play until they could be compensated for their winnings. The fan support was nearly non-existent (even after their previous World Championship and Olympic victories), and many doubted they would be able to achieve the success and fan base they were hoping for and working towards. Not to mention their defeat in the semi-finals of the previous World Cup. But once the US Women’s National Team set foot on that field in Pasadena, California, one can assume that their minds were not dwelling on their struggle to get to where they were. Instead, they were focused on the very important task at hand, one more obstacle to overcome to prove to their doubters they could do it, to thank their growing fan support, and to have the satisfaction and bragging rights of once again being the best in the world.
This obstacle came in the form of the Chinese National Team. Their bright red uniforms buzzed around the field intermixing with the white uniforms of the US. In the stands, the red, white, and blue greatly outnumbered the red and yellow, but on the field it was dead even. Ninety minutes plus extra time ended in a lock down draw with neither team conceding a goal. Onto penalty kicks. China shot first: make. Then the US: make. Then China and the US again: both makes. Finally, on their third shot, China: miss. The US made their shot to take the lead, but China made their next one. One shot to go for the US; a miss would mean the penalty kicks would continue; a make would mean a world championship.
It is extremely unlikely that any thought of a miss went through Brandi Chastain’s mind as she walked briskly up to the penalty spot. The ball was tossed to her and she set it down on the spot without once looking up at the goal or the distracting antics of the Chinese goal keeper. She turned her back and walked six paces back and turned around. She brushed her hair out of her face and kept her eyes focused solely on the ball, still refusing to look up at the goal. The whistle was blown and with a steady but rapid run up to the ball, she drilled it cleanly and confidently with the laces of her left-foot into the side netting on the right side of the goal. The keeper guessed the right way, but the power and speed of the ball was too much for her diving outstretched arms to even get close. The ball ricocheted from the side of the net and rolled to the opposite end of the goal where if finally slowed to a stop, but no one was watching the ball anymore, all eyes were on the best team in the world and the team who had made America believe in women’s soccer.
Brandi Chastain’s World Cup winning penalty kick