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The U.S. women’s soccer team has been an international force since the FIFA Women’s World Cup began in 1991. In seven tournaments, the U.S. team has claimed four championships, was runner-up once and has finished third three times. A year-by-year look at Team USA’s history in the tournament:
USA 2, Norway 1
Sweden 4, Germany 0
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The Americans went undefeated and untied, winning their six games by a combined score of 25-5. The only games decided by fewer than three goals were their first — a 3-2 win over Sweden in which 19-year-old Mia Hamm scored the winner — and the last. In the final, Michelle Akers scored off a turnover in the 78th minute — regulation time was 80 minutes — for the game-winner.
Norway 2, Germany 0
USA 2, China 0
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The Americans’ unbeaten run in World Cup play ended in the semifinals with a 1-0 loss to Norway, their chief rival in the early and mid-1990s. The U.S. played with a man advantage over the final 14 minutes but hit the crossbar twice and couldn’t break through against the Norwegians, who blitzed opponents by a 23-1 margin on their way to the title. The Americans bounced back in the consolation final against China, which had played them to a 3-3 draw in the group stage.
USA 0, China 0
USA wins shootout, 5-4
Brazil 0, Norway 0
Brazil wins shootout, 5-4
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The host Americans became a national sensation, drawing 3 1/2 times as many fans to their six games than attended the entire previous Women’s World Cup. They dominated their qualifying group; survived shaky defense to beat Germany, 3-2, in the quarterfinals; and outlasted China in a tense and grueling championship game. The final, played before 90,185 at the Rose Bowl, drew a record crowd for a women’s sporting event, and the image of Brandi Chastain celebrating her title-clinching penalty kick remains a touchstone. "It was like we were rock stars," defender Joy Fawcett said. "Those were loud screams like I had never heard before. It was amazing.”
Germany 2, Sweden 1
USA 3, Canada 1
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The tournament started with uncertainty: Originally slated to be played in China, it was moved to the United States only four months before it began because of an outbreak of the SARS virus. The first domestic women’s pro soccer league, its founding sparked by the heady days of 1999, folded just days before the event kicked off. It ended with the Americans entering a period of transition; they were routed by Germany in the semifinals of the final World Cup played by Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and several others who had put the women’s game on the map.
Germany 2, Brazil 0
USA 4, Norway 1
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The Americans entered on a 51-game unbeaten streak, but controversy ultimately marked their tournament. The U.S. was often sluggish on the field and suffered the worst loss in team history in the semifinals, a 4-0 defeat to Brazil, after starting goalkeeper Hope Solo was unexpectedly benched for veteran Briana Scurry. Solo sharply criticized the move, was left off the roster for the consolation game and did not attend the victory over Norway.
Japan 2, USA 2
Japan wins shootout, 3-1
Sweden 2, France 1
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The U.S. lost in World Cup group play for the first time, 2-1 to Sweden, but responded with a run that rocketed the team back into the national limelight. Megan Rapinoe and Abby Wambach, the Americans’ all-time leading scorer, provided one of the signature moments in team history by linking up for a last-gasp, tying goal that led to a quarterfinal victory over Brazil on penalty kicks. The tables were turned in a riveting final when Homare Sawa tied the score late in extra time and the underdog Japanese prevailed in the shootout.
USA 5, Japan 2
England 1, Germany 0
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It wasn’t always a smooth ride to the final for the Americans. They struggled on offense during a difficult group stage and weathered criticism over their grinding style and their inclusion in the lineup of goalkeeper Hope Solo, who was charged in a domestic violence incident before the tournament. But the defense, including Solo, was stellar, and the offense picked up steam in the knockout stage, capped by a 2-0 semifinal win over top-ranked Germany. In the final, the Americans left no doubt about the world’s best team: They scored four goals in the first 16 minutes, three of them by Carli Lloyd, to rout Japan.
USA 2, Netherlands 0
Sweden 2, England 1
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By many measures — television ratings, media interest, depth of field — it was a breakthrough World Cup, and the Americans were at the fore. Their 26 goals set the mark for most in a tournament. The team also sparked wider debates about gender equality, sportsmanship and patriotism. The U.S. was tested by new challengers in the knockout stage, edging Spain, France and England, all by 2-1 scores, before pulling away from first-time finalist Netherlands for the title. Megan Rapinoe was singular on and off the field, winning both the Golden Ball (tournament MVP) and Golden Boot (leading scorer, with six goals).