It has taken 16 years but finally USA and China PR will meet again on the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ stage. The 1999 Final remains a milestone moment for women’s football, with two well-matched teams doing battle in front of a 90,185 crowd; a figure which remains a world record for a women’s football match. USA triumphed by the slimmest margin that day – 5-4 on penalties after 120 scoreless minutes – and now Ottawa will host the two nations on Friday with a berth in the last-four at Canada 2015 the rich prize awaiting the victor.
The sun-filled memories of that iconic July afternoon in Pasadena’s hot Californian sun still conjure warm responses throughout both the United States and also the globe’s most populated nation. And the flow-on affects of the match still resonate nearly two decades later, with several youngsters of that era now lead performers in the latest chapter of this storied rivalry, with each pointing to the ’99 match as their greatest football inspiration.
USA fullback Ali Krieger was an impressionable young teenager at the time of the USA 1999 Final growing up in a football heartland in northern Virginia. “I was watching at home and all my team-mates were watching too,” Krieger told FIFA.com. “I thought it was a dream come true just watching all the girls play. It is something I will never forget. I remember wanting to be in their shoes, be on that field and have that experience. I wanted that dream for myself.”
And Krieger – though now 31 and playing in her second Women’s World Cup – says it is still surreal to be living out the dream. “Every time I put on my jersey I feel so proud, and so grateful for that moment. We have all worked so hard and it is very rewarding.
“I loved Mia Hamm, and I really looked up to Julie Foudy as well, who is one of my mentors. That team really inspired the young players that provided the path for us and helped create what we have now. So we want to do this [achieve success at Canada 2015] for ourselves, and our friends and families, but we also want to do it for them.”
It is something I will never forget. I remember wanting to be in their shoes, be on that field and have that experience. I wanted that dream for myself.
Similarly the memories are similarly strong and resounding among the Chinese players with both goalkeeper Fei Wang and forward Shanshan Wang telling FIFA.com earlier in their tournament of the inspiration they drew from the match at the end of the last century. “I think we are getting closer to them [China’s 1999 side],” Fei Wang said. “We play with the feet more now and we are gaining extra power within us.”
Awaiting USA are a young China side who are showing the kind of physical and mental resilience for which the Class of 1999 were renowned. The Steel Roses have conceded just three times in their four matches, and one of those was an injury-time penalty. USA’s campaign to end their 16-year Women’s World Cup drought is further threatened by the absence of midfield cornerstones Lauren Holiday and Megan Rapinoe due to suspension.
“They are quick, they are smart, and technical,” Krieger says of China. “They are very smart in their vision and the way they play. We need to finish our chances, but we also need to play quick, and one-two touch game. We want to play the best teams in the world. That is why we are here. It is clichéd but you have to beat the best to be the best.”