Sixteen years ago, in front of 92,000 supporters at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California and more than 40 million bulging eyes from all over the world; a female athlete tore off her jersey, bared her black sports bra, and ran at full speed towards the stands to celebrate her final-winning penalty. The moment was then featured on the same year’s Sports Illustrated and is one of the most defining images in female sports: Brandi Chastain of the US celebrating the clinching goal at the 1999 Women’s World Cup Final against China.
Now sixteen years later, if the US is to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1999, it has to go through China, again.
The loss in 1999 is remembered vividly but bitterly by many Chinese. I still remember that my mom, who barely watches any sports at all and who often reserves her opinions, turned out to be unusually talkative the night before the game. I secretly sensed her tone of pride on dinner table, "We are playing the World Cup Finals, the women’s team!" And for the first time in her life, she set up an alarm to wake her up at midnight for a football game.
As a seven year old myself, I didn’t understand much of what it meant, and didn’t make to most of the game until the penalty. When I woke up, about seven in the morning, my mom, who didn’t even understand what an offside was, had stayed by the TV for almost three hours. She told me later that it took her about 10 minutes to decide which side China was and which the US was.
When Brandi Chastain blasted the heart-broken penalty into the end of the net guarded by Gao Hong, she took a deep breath, "Ai, we lost the game," and went up to cook my breakfast without saying anything else.
But she was a bit of sullen the whole day.
And then I knew, as a seven-year-old, that women are as competitive and tough as the men, and despite the lack of promotion that the men’s competition generates, this world cup is equally important for the participating countries. And that’s why you should have your daughter watch the Women’s World Cup with you, especially if she happens to be a footie fan, and you happen to be a footie fan who stays up for men’s World Cup.
Currently ranked 16th in the world, China is regarded as the underdog for the coming match by all means. Losing the opening game to host Canada 0-1, China managed to make to the knock-off round after a hard earned 1-0 win against the Netherlands and a 2-2 tie against New Zealand. They entered the quarterfinal having stifled the Cameroon offense in a 1-0 Round-of-16 win. In all three attempts at the Women’s World Cup, China has never defeated the US.
The US, currently ranked 2nd in the world, advanced to the knock-off stage by winning the first place in Group D, and entered to the quarterfinals with a 2-0 victory over Colombia.
With that being said, China doesn’t stand no chance. Despite US’s status as heavy favorites, they will miss two of their energetic midfielders Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday due to a case of yellow cards, and the team looks far from convincing in going forward, especially when Abbey Wambach, the 35-year-old legendary striker, fails to make an impact in the opponent’s box.
Being the youngest sides in the tournament with an average age under 23, China counteracts the US’s international experience with youthful energy and speed, as well as disciplined defense that doesn’t break apart under pressure. The other advantage for China is the psychology edge. Having made to the top eight, the Steel Roses have already overachieved in the event. There’s no burden on the shoulder, and they could just go all in and give whatever they have.
As far as we’ve been asked, no establishment in town plans to broadcast a women’s football game on Saturday morning, but we can as well watch it.
Catch the game with CCTV Sports on Saturday, Jun 27 at 7.30am Beijing Time.