Joyful tears mingled with streaks of perspiration, a mixture of ecstasy and exhaustion written on the faces of the U.S. women's national team players.
After a scoreless 90-minute regulation, after two scoreless 15-minute overtime periods, the United States finally defeated China in a stirring 5-4 penalty-kick shootout in front of 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl.
After U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry saved a shot by China's Liu Ying, the victory was sealed on the fifth U.S. shot by defender Brandi Chastain, who used her left foot to send the ball into the right side of the goal past China goalkeeper Gao Hong. When the ball settled into the net, Chastain ripped off her jersey -- she was wearing a black sports bra underneath -- and sank to her knees. Her teammates rushed from midfield and swallowed her in celebration. Many were sobbing, overcome with emotion.
"There was elation, utter craziness, insanity," Chastain said. "I just thought: This is the greatest moment in my life on a soccer field."
It had been a long journey for the trailblazing U.S. players, a journey that for many began more than a decade ago, so perhaps it was fitting that they took this match to the very last kick.
"It came down to them just not allowing themselves to lose," U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco said. "It's a storybook ending for a team that has its place in history."
The victory gave the United States a second Women's World Cup title, along with the one it won in the inaugural tournament in 1991. Seven players on this team also competed in that championship -- including the five players who made their penalty kicks at the end.
The stage was set for Chastain's winning kick when Scurry dived to her left and punched the ball away on China's third penalty-kick attempt. As the ball spun away from the goal, Scurry leaped to her feet and stomped to the sidelines, pumping her fists and urging on the crowd.
"I had a feeling when [Liu Ying] was walking up that I could get that one," Scurry said. "I can't explain it. . . . Just looking at her, I had a feeling come over me that that was going to be the one.
"I knew I just had to make one save because I knew my teammates would make their shots."
The victory came in front of the largest crowd to witness a women's-only sporting event, surpassing the 78,972 that attended the tournament opener June 19 at Giants Stadium. Afterward, the players from the United States and China held hands and took a bow. President Clinton visited both locker rooms -- China's first -- after the match.
The diplomacy ended there, however. Chinese Coach Ma Yuanan said through a translator that he thought his team, which also lost to the U.S. team in the finals of the 1996 Olympics, was the better team despite today's loss.
The U.S. players disagreed. They also said they wanted the victory more.
"Each one of us have hearts that are a little too large for our chests," Chastain said. "We came together and said. . . . `Let's not give this up.' We knew [at the end of the first overtime] that this was the last 15 minutes of the World Cup. Why save anything?"
The tournament concluded a tiring run for the U.S. team, which squeezed through close quarterfinal and semifinal matches against Germany and Brazil, which defeated Norway by the same penalty-kick margin earlier today to claim third place in the tournament.
"All these things that were put in front of us, we answered every single one," U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy said. "That gives me such pride. When I went out for the second overtime and the stadium was giving us a standing ovation, that's when I remember looking around and saying, this is just unbelievable."
Carla Overbeck, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly and Mia Hamm converted their kicks before Chastain got her chance. The Americans were without penalty-kick specialist Michelle Akers, who left the game at the end of regulation because of dehydration and heat exhaustion. Akers, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, received fluids intravenously afterward.
Hamm actually tried to get out of taking her penalty kick. She was the fourth name penciled on the list by Lauren Gregg, the U.S. assistant whose job it is to plot the penalty-kick order. Hamm said she lacked confidence in her penalty kicks and told Gregg to let Shannon MacMillan attempt one instead. Gregg told Hamm it was too late; the order was already set.
Chastain said she was surprised when selected to kick. She had cost her team a victory against China in March in the same situation -- then, she missed the penalty-kick attempt.
"When Mia made hers, I was like, `Oh my god, I have the last kick,'" Chastain said. "But that's when the calm came over. . . . I didn't hear any noise. I didn't get caught up looking at Gao. Sometimes she tries to get you into a staring match to make you feel uneasy."
The fact that the U.S. team was still alive for penalty kicks was largely due to Lilly, a midfielder who made the defensive play of the tournament for the United States in the 100th minute. Liu had struck a corner kick to the right side of the goal. Fan Yunjie leaped and headed a hard shot toward the left side of the goal. Scurry had no chance for the save but Lilly, who was guarding the left post, slid over a step and headed the ball -- a certain goal -- out of the way.
"I wasn't scared -- I wasn't even thinking," Lilly said. "I was just doing my job. The ball came right to my head."
"If it had been a foot higher," Hamm said, "you would be talking to the Chinese team right now."
The U.S. team had a clear advantage in height and used it to win nearly every header. During the first overtime, however, China came out running hard and the U.S. players appeared fatigued.
But they kept knocking away shot attempts -- China had two shots on goal in overtime; the United States had none. And the Americans made the shots that really mattered.
"This is something that will go down in our hearts forever," Lilly said. "This moment is more than just a game, it's more than just sports. . . . It's everything."
In the elimination rounds of international soccer tournaments, penalty kicks are used to determine the winner of matches that are tied after 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of sudden-death overtime.
Each team alternates five kicks apiece from the penalty spot, which is located 12 yards from the net. The goalkeeper is allowed to move laterally prior to the kick, but is not supposed to step forward until the ball is struck.
However, that rule is rarely enforced. On the kick that she saved, Briana Scurry appeared to move a few steps forward before China's Liu Ying attemped her shot.
The common strategy for the shooter is to aim for the upper or lower corners, making it extremely difficult for the goalkeeper to reach. The goalie has much more to think about: which way to dive, whether to dive at all, whether to stay low or leap high. There also is a psychological factor. U.S. defender Brandi Chastain, who made the winning penalty kick, says China goalkeeper Gao Hong often tries to catch the eye of the shooter before the attempt and smile at her.
Knowing this, Chastain said she never looked up and concentrated on the ball.
-- Steven Goff
GK: Gao Hong
China took the first shot.
GK: Briana Scurry
CHINA 1, U.S. 1
CHINA 2, U.S. 2
CHINA 3, U.S. 4
CHINA 4, U.S. 5
CHINA 2, U.S. 3
CAPTION: Goalie Briana Scurry stops Liu Ying on China's third penalty shot, which sent U.S. to a 5-4 win in the shootout. Teams were scoreless after 90-minute regulation and two 15-minute overtime periods.
CAPTION: Shot heard 'round the world: Brandi Chastain beats China's Gao Hong. Chastain: "There was elation, utter craziness."
CAPTION: Kristine Lilly, left, who made a game-saving goal-line save, Brandi Chastain and Julie Foudy bask in the glow of U.S.'s second Women's World Cup title.