The U.S. women's soccer team continued its World Cup success on the West Coast today as 73,123 singing, chanting fans at Stanford Stadium turned another victory into a purely American Fourth of July celebration. To roaring chants of "U-S-A", the American women officially became the nation's pride by narrowly beating Brazil's flamboyant "Samba Queens," 2-0, to advance to the championship game Saturday in the Rose Bowl against China, which routed Norway, 5-0, tonight at Foxboro (Mass.) Stadium.
A festive throng, including countless enthusiasts with red, white and blue attire and painted faces, drowned out the persistent samba beat of Brazil's vastly outnumbered rooters in the stadium. The U.S. team struck in the fifth minute on a header by 5-foot-11 Cindy Parlow and, after a prolonged and tense struggle, on a penalty kick taken by midfielder Michelle Akers in the 80th minute.
Americans across the Atlantic began the day by winning both the men's and women's singles crowns at Wimbledon. Lindsay Davenport became the first U.S.-born woman to win there since 1981, and Pete Sampras equaled Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam titles and became the first six-time men's singles winner in Wimbledon's modern era. The women's final marked both the first Wimbledon title for Davenport, who won the U.S. Open last year, and the last appearance at the tournament for runner-up Steffi Graf, who said after her 6-4, 7-5 loss that she would not return to the grass courts at Wimbledon. Now 30, she won the title there seven times. Sampras won the renewal of his long-running rivalry with fellow American Andre Agassi in dominating style, producing a precise and well-rounded 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 victory.
Today's U.S. soccer victory and the spectacle of pride and patriotism fell on a date remembered for other momentous occasions in American sports: the triumph of the first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson over Jim Jeffries in the "Fight of the Century," July 4, 1910, and one of the saddest days in this nation's sports history, July 4, 1939, when terminally ill Lou Gehrig bade farewell to a nation at Yankee Stadium.
The U.S. soccer team hopes to be long remembered as an inspiring force in women's sports, and needs one more victory to claim the Women's World Cup. The Americans won the Cup in 1991 in China but received little fanfare at home. Then, in 1995 in Sweden, they were beaten in the semifinals by Norway, which took the Cup. The Americans, a veteran team, have won five straight games in this tournament.
"One of the things that sets this team apart," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said, "is that they just want to go out and win games and win championships and Olympic gold medals. That's an awesome challenge. The genuine pursuit of their dreams and goals is what is so enticing for people. It's kind of snowballed and has turned into a wonderful phenomenon."
On this day, the U.S. managed to hold on to its perilous lead through much of the game, and stop Brazil's high-scoring star, Sissi, largely because of spectacular goalkeeping by Briana Scurry, named the game's most valuable player. "I definitely think today was my best effort in my five years playing on the team," said Scurry, 27. The Brazilians, who peppered Scurry with shots in the second half, were far more gritty and competitive than their predecessors, who finished ninth in both of the first two Women's World Cups.
"This is amazing. I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience with these thousands of fans here to cheer us on," said U.S. defender Brandi Chastain. "Brazil is a great team. They played hard for ninety minutes. I don't care who we play in the final. I'm just excited to be going."
Chastain, a self-described "huge soccer fanatic" from nearby San Jose, remembered July 4, 1994, driving to the U.S.-Brazil men's World Cup match here with a big American flag draped on her car. Midfielder Julie Foudy also came that day, recalling "the enthusiasm of the crowd and that it was just packed and very patriotic." What both found hard to believe on this Independence Day was that history virtually repeated itself -- except this time the jammed stadium had come to watch them and their teammates in a World Cup game.
And they provided a happier ending than when Brazil eliminated the U.S. men, 1-0, in 1994. Today's victory was greeted by countless streams of bunting flung to the breezes, the sound of cannon fire and a joyous lap around the field by the smiling, waving U.S. team. The distinctly American holiday atmosphere included pre-game family picnics in the shaded area outside the stadium and flag-waving from the seats. The panorama was painted in Fourth of July colors -- a predominance of the color red in the crowd, the white of the U.S. uniforms and the blue of the sky.
"The fans definitely made a difference for me," said Scurry, "especially two, my parents, who finally got to a game. I'm happy that I was able to do them proud. It's great to see the outpouring of people supporting us."
"She's the best keeper in the world," midfielder Carla Overbeck said happily.
Chastain spoke to one of the appealing aspects of the Americans, not merely their teamwork but what appears to be a genuine love for one another. "We give to each other," she said. "We trust each other. We share the load. Kids are signing up by the thousands to play soccer. We want to get as much interest as possible at the grass-roots level. We're happy for kids to look to us as role models. We're proud to carry the banner, to be the ambassadors of this sport. I love soccer so much, I want to do this."
CAPTION: Michelle Akers (third from left) gets a group hug after scoring the second goal for U.S. women in 2-0 victory over Brazil to advance to World Cup final.