- Brandi Chastain scored winning penalty kick against China PR on this day in 1999
- Showpiece decider played in front of 90,000 at Pasadena's Rose Bowl
- Chastain:"The first month or two after, I don’t think I slept very much"
You know a moment is important when decades later you can remember exactly where you were when it happened. That is certainly the case when recalling Brandi Chastain’s FIFA Women's World Cup USA 1999™-winning penalty kick and subsequent celebration against China PR in front of an overflowing Rose Bowl with 90,000 people on a sizzling summer afternoon in Pasadena, California.
The image of Chastain on her knees, shirt removed, body flexed, eyes closed in jubilation is one that will not only live forever in USA’s football history, but one that has proven its timelessness in the cultural eye and has a firm place in sporting history.
“I can’t imagine what my life would be without it,” Chastain told FIFA.com. “The first month or two after, I don’t think I slept very much.”
The moment represents more than a person celebrating victory, it represents the beginning of a new dawn for women’s football.
“Knowing that the photograph is the gateway to something that lived in anonymity for so long, women’s soccer specifically, and the fact that it was kind of the window to people seeing soccer maybe for the first time, I’m proud of that,” Chastain said. “I own that moment in terms of it being me but really our team and our staff and US Soccer have to take as much pride in that moment as I do.”
Victory through adversity
USA and China had played to a goalless draw after a gruelling 120 minutes of play. Chastain was the fifth player on head coach Tony DiCicco’s list, a slot that holds a significant weight of responsibility.
“Luckily at the point when I was out on the field and the penalty kicks were starting, there wasn’t a lot going through my mind, more so just the excitement of being in that moment and feeling really good about winning the game," Chastain recalled. "We had worked so hard and our team was really good at just believing that we would win and we could do everything necessary to win.”
That belief helped USA overcome adversity. Earlier in the tournament, Chastain scored an own goal in the fifth minute in the quarter-finals against Germany, only to respond by scoring an equalising goal later in the second half en route to victory. Even before kick-off in Pasadena, there were obstacles to overcome.
“I’m sure that most people don’t know that we never got to really warm up on the field!” Chastain said. “Norway and Brazil were playing before us and they also went to penalty kicks and so we basically did our warm-up in the dark underbelly of the Rose Bowl. It was indicative of the type of team we were; it didn’t matter what was thrown our way, we could handle anything. We were able to keep our heads about us and just get to the task at hand.”
Algarve Cup revenge
Chastain’s celebration was one that encapsulated what winning a World Cup means to an athlete, but it was also an outpouring of relief. Earlier in March of that year, Chastain had missed a penalty (hitting the crossbar) against China goalkeeper Gao Hong in Portugal at the Algarve Cup in a 2-1 loss for the USA in the final. Despite winning the inaugural World Cup in 1991, the defeat that day represented the fifth consecutive Algarve Cup the Stars and Stripes left without the title.
“As I was walking up to get the ball for the fifth penalty kick, the only thing going through my mind was not to look at the goalkeeper,” Chastain said. “Earlier in the year she had stood right in front of me and kind of like two boxers in the ring she psyched me out and I ended up missing the penalty and we ended up losing the game. I didn’t want to give her that chance again.”
Fast forward to Pasadena in the World Cup Final, and there was Gao Hong attempting to defeat Chastain in another psychological battle as she approached the spot. All the pressure was on the Chinese keeper as earlier USA goalkeeper Brianna Scurry had made the crucial save from Liu Ying’s penalty.
It was all down to this kick. And this time, Chastain made no mistake. She composed herself for three seconds before beginning the run-up and sending the ball with her left foot past a springing Hong and inside the side netting—the kind of penalty kick she would have been taught on the fields of sunny San Jose just up the coast.
In one fluid motion Chastain removed her shirt, fell to her knees and time seemed to stand still for just a moment as she looked up to the sky and made her eternal mark on football history.