A “storybook ending” Tony DiCicco called it, but the U.S. coach had it wrong.
If the United States’ dramatic 5-4 penalty-kick victory over China in the Women’s World Cup final on Saturday was anything, it was more like a never-ending story.
And not because the game, in which neither team scored in regulation or overtime, took more than two hours to decide, in front of a sun-baked Rose Bowl crowd of 90,185.
Once again, the U.S. team reached deep into its past to discover its present. It took the world champions of 1991 to deliver the world championship in 1999.
The heroes of the hour were, in no particular order: Michelle Akers, Kristine Lilly, Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy.
Each of them were there that November night in 1991, when the U.S. defeated Norway, 2-1, in Guangzhou, China, to win the first FIFA Women’s World Championship.
Each of them were there that August night in 1996, when the U.S. defeated China, 2-1, in Athens, Ga., to win the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games.
And each of them came through yet again on a sweltering afternoon to add another first to the U.S. team’s already long and storied list of triumphs:
* First world champion.
* First Olympic champion.
* First team to win two world championships.
* First to hold the Olympic and world championships simultaneously.
“It’s a storybook ending for a team that has its place in history,” DiCicco said, while admitting that it just as easily might have been China taking the trophy home.
“There were two champions out there today,” he said. “The Chinese team is a credit to women’s soccer. Certainly they could be carrying the trophy. We’re delighted we have it, but I want to recognize how much they contributed to the overall success of this World Cup.
“The game was back and forth. At times we had advantages and I thought we were going to stick one in [score], and then at times they were all over us.
“It’s just a credit to the teams, because it’s difficult to play in that heat at that pace and then to play extra time.”
The game was scoreless after 90 minutes and remained scoreless after two 15-minute periods of sudden death. Then it went to penalty kicks, just as the Brazil-Italy men’s World Cup final had done in the same stadium five years ago.
“The first extra time I thought they dominated us,” DiCicco said. “It looked as if we were running out of gas. But to the credit of the U.S. team, they pulled together, and in the second overtime we dominated.”
But didn’t score.
In fact, the closest either team came to putting the ball in the back of the net during 120 not exactly nail-biting minutes was when a header by Chinese defender Fan Yunjie was cleared off the U.S. goal line by Lilly 10 minutes into sudden death.
“Kristine is one of the best players in the world and she finds and invents ways to win games,” DiCicco said. “This was just another way that she found to help the U.S. win.”
Finally, referee Nicole Mouidi-Petignat of Switzerland signaled an end to the overtime and the stage was set for the penalty kicks. This is how it went:
* Xie Huilin stepped up and banged the first one in for China, beating U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry to her right, but Overbeck responded by beating Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong to make the score 1-1.
* Qiu Haiyan scored to restore China’s lead, but Fawcett tied it up.
* Liu Ying tried to steer a shot to Scurry’s right, but the keeper, who later admitted to coming off her line early, dived to her left and made the save. Lilly then scored to give the U.S. the lead.
“She didn’t really place her shot that well,” Scurry said of Liu.
“I knew I just had to make one save the entire time because I knew my teammates would make their shots. So I knew if I just got one, we’d probably win it. I was glad I could do it.”
* Zhang Ouying kept China’s hopes alive, but Hamm responded with a goal of her own.
“I was watching Gao during the kicks and she was always going right,” Hamm said. “That told me she wasn’t comfortable going left. I wanted to put it in a position she couldn’t get it. All I saw was a ball in the back of the net. I don’t even know if it was a good kick.”
* Sun Wen, China’s star player, scored and Chastain, who had missed a penalty kick against China in the Algarve Cup final in Portugal in March, stepped up for the U.S.
She scored and the U.S. had reclaimed the world championship it lost to Norway in Sweden in 1995.
“I’m delighted that we won this tournament,” DiCicco said. “It came down to them [the U.S. players] just not allowing themselves to lose. To make all five penalty kicks in a pressure-cooker situation like this, and for Bri [Scurry] to come up with a save, it’s a storybook ending.”
China’s coach, Ma Yuanan called the U.S. victory “fortunate,” but there was more than luck involved. Destiny, maybe?
Or perhaps just a sense of history.
The first champions are champions again.
BILL PLASCHKE: It didn’t take long to see this was a very different kind of major sports event. A1
RANDY HARVEY: World Cup finals at the Rose Bowl have a little bit of everything, except goals scored. D2
GAME REPORT: Michelle Akers played her heart out, but what about Mia Hamm and Sun Wen? D10
UNITED STATES: A collision and dehydration knocked Michelle Akers out after regulation. D11
CHINA: Defense first meant the Chinese weren’t aggressive on offense. D11
USA MEMORIES: Even before winning, the U.S. players knew this was a tournament to remember. D12
NOTES: Organizers had hoped for a good game, but a U.S. victory made things better. D13
THIRD PLACE: Brazil cuts to the chase and defeats defending champion Norway on penalty kicks. D13
BY THE NUMBERS
2: Number of world Cups won by the U.S. women (1991, 1999)
12-5-5: Overall U.S. record vs. China
18: Goals scored by U.S. in World Cup (China scored 19)
3: Goals allowed by U.S. in the World Cup
90,185: Attendance Saturday, the largest crowd to watch a women’s sporting event
14th: Ranking of Saturday’s attendance to see a soccer game at the Rose Bowl
11,12: Number of shots taken by U.S./China in the title match before penalty kicks
36,132: Average attendance at 1999 Women’s World Cup games in U.S.
67,903: Average attendance at 1994 Men’s World Cup games in U.S.