After the United States' 3-0 victory over Denmark in today's opening match of the 1999 Women's World Cup, the U.S. players took a victory lap that doubled as a thank-you note. They circled the field, skipping joyously, overflowing with jubilation and gratitude. The U.S. players clapped for the crowd of 78,972 -- a world record for a women's-only sporting event and a mark for any sporting event at Giants Stadium. They received a standing ovation in return.
"This is what we always dreamed of," said Mia Hamm, the U.S. team's star forward. "This has never happened in this kind of environment. Who didn't get goose bumps? It was awesome."
The sellout crowd broke the previous attendance mark for a women's-only sporting event, surpassing the 76,489 who attended the United States' 2-1 victory over China in the gold medal game of the 1996 Olympics. Overwhelmingly American, the fans delighted in the U.S. players' domination, which was a positive first step -- though only a small one -- in this 16-team tournament that concludes July 10 in Pasadena, Calif.
The victory put the U.S. team atop its first-round group, which also includes Nigeria -- the United States' next opponent, Thursday in Chicago -- and North Korea. It featured highlight-film goals from three of the United States' longest-serving national team players, Hamm, midfielder Julie Foudy and forward Kristine Lilly. All played for the U.S. team that won the inaugural Women's World Cup in China in 1991. Each has been a national team member for more than a decade.
Today they played the central roles in a match that had a handful of good saves, close calls, shots off the post and near-misses. It included entertaining celebrations, including Foudy's strange pose after her goal in the 73rd minute -- her teammates said she was imitating the movie character Austin Powers.
It also included high emotions, from tingling tension to violent anger. Players said they felt chills upon entering the stadium, and the anger came from Lilly, who pointed to an unidentified Danish player after she scored in the 89th minute, shouting "That one's for you!" The player, she believed, had fouled her seconds before.
U.S. players painted their fingernails and toenails red, white and blue with nail polish veteran midfielder Michelle Akers had saved from the 1996 Olympics. The U.S. team members consider that tournament, and that year, their best in terms of focus and overcoming misfortune. In 1995, the United States lost to Norway in the Women's World Cup semifinals. That third-place finish is remembered as nothing short of a heartbreak.
U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco, who was in his first season as coach in 1995, today could barely be heard, even with a microphone, after the game. He had yelled himself hoarse. "We're delighted with the win," he said. "But it's just the beginning. We can't get too overjoyed here."
Forward Tiffeny Milbrett, playing in her second World Cup, was so excited during the pregame ceremonies, she actually slapped United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on the back as he shook hands with each player.
Denmark then nearly scored a surprise goal in the second minute, as the United States scrambled to find its organization and composure. Lene Jensen sent a perfect pass to a Gitte Krogh at the right of the goal, but Krogh missed the open net.
DiCicco said he wanted his players to gain control of their emotions so the team's "personality players," those with the skill and confidence to score under such pressure, could take over. Hamm was the first, taking a pass from Brandi Chastain and knocking a left-footed volley, an unusual shot for her, past goalkeeper Dorthe Larsen.
She ran up the field with an index finger raised. "The whole time I was running, I was saying, `Are you kidding me?' " Hamm said later, laughing. " `I don't score goals like that.' "
Then came Foudy's goal, also a left-footed shot, that came on a cross from Hamm. By the time Lilly hit her clinching goal, Hamm already had come out of the game. She sat on the sideline, her shin guards off, her socks rolled down to her ankles, her calves being massaged by a trainer -- until Lilly drilled the ball into the net.
Hamm leaped up as if in an ejection seat, joining in the celebration again. "The best feeling for me was when the final whistle blew," Foudy said. "It was great to take some time to let the final moment sink in."
BRAZIL 7, MEXICO 1: Led by three goals each by Sissi and Pretinha, Brazil made a major statement with its defeat of a Mexican team featuring 13 players who attended U.S. colleges.
Begining with a goal by Pretinha in the third minute and concluding with a goal in the 90th, Brazil dominated Mexico, which is competing in its first World Cup. Fourth-place finishers at the 1996 Olympics, the Brazilians proved they had plenty of talent, even without top forward Roseli, who was out with a knee injury.
Katia da Silva scored the other goal for Brazil. Maribel Dominguez scored for Mexico.
CAPTION: Denmark's Mikka Hansen (15), Michelle Akers battle. "We're delighted with the win," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "But it's just the beginning."
CAPTION: U.S. goalie Briana Scurry makes a save as teammate Kate Sobrero and Denmark's Merete Pedersen converge before a record crowd of 78,972.