Sixteen years ago, in front of 92,000 supporters at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California and more than 40 million bulging eyes from all over the world; a female athlete tore off her jersey, bared her black sports bra, and ran at full speed towards the stands to celebrate her final-winning penalty.
The moment was then featured on the same year’s Sports Illustrated and is one of the defining images in female sports: Brandi Chastain of the US celebrating the clinching goal at the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final against China.
Now, 16 years later, if the US is to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1999, they have to go through China, once again.
The loss in 1999 is remembered vividly but bitterly by many Chinese. I still remember that my mom, who barely watches any sports at all and who is often reserved, turned out to be unusually talkative the night before the game. I sensed her tone of pride at dinner table: "We are playing the World Cup Finals, the women's team!" And for the only time in her life, set up an alarm to wake her up at midnight for a football game.
Being seven at the time, I didn't understand much of what it meant, and didn't catch any of the game except for the closing penalty shootout. When I woke up, at about 7am, my mom, who didn't even understand what an offside was, had stayed by the TV for almost three hours. She told me later that it took her about 10 minutes to decide which side China was and which the US was. When Brandi Chastain blasted the heart-breaking penalty into the back of Gao Hong's net, my mother took a deep breath and said, "Aiya, we lost the game," before going to make breakfast in silence.
She remained sullen throughout the day.
Han Peng, the Steel Roses' starting midfielder, was nine at the time. Now 25, she told the New York Times that she "felt so disappointed" when she heard the result, adding, "I thought to myself, if I were given the opportunity in the future, I will beat them." Sixteen years on, she gets her long-awaited chance for redemption.
What you problably don't remember is that three years prior to the 1999 World Cup, China lost to the US 1-2 in 1996 Olympic Games women's football final, only fueling this ongoing rivalry.
Currently ranked 16th in the world, China is by all means regarded as the underdog for the coming match. Losing the opening game to host Canada 0-1, China managed to make to the knock-off round after a hard earned 1-0 win against the Netherlands and a 2-2 tie against New Zealand. They entered the quarterfinal having stifled Cameroon's offense in a 1-0 Round-of-16 win. In all three attempts at the Women’s World Cup, China has never defeated the US.
The US, currently ranked second in the world, advanced to the knock-off stage by winning the first place in Group D, and entered to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over Colombia.
With that being said, China does stand a chance. Despite the US's status as the favorites to win, they will be missing two of their best midfielders, Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, after both received a match ban for incurring the maximum number of yellow cards, and the team has looked far from convincing, especially when Abbey Wambach, the 35-year-old legendary striker, has been failing to make an impact in the opponent's box.
Being the youngest side in the tournament with an average age under 23, China counteracts the US's international experience with youthful energy and speed, as well as disciplined defense that doesn't break under pressure. China's strength defensively must have something to do with the team's Headcoach Hao Wei; the 38-year-old defense-oriented manager played as center back for Beijing Guo'an between 2004 and 2006.
China should also have the edge psychologically. Having made to the top eight, the Steel Roses have already overachieved at the event. There's no burden on their shoulder's, and they can go all in and give it their everything, that is, as long as they don't dwell on the past.
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