Special to ESPN.com
The heat brought many of the players to the threshold of exhaustion and near-collapse. Soccer moms and daughters, their faces painted red, white and blue, sat next to fathers and sons. Even President Bill Clinton was in attendance, having been lured into the swirl of the World Cup's popularity.
After the second 15-minute scoreless overtime period, American and Chinese players sprawled out on the grass, gulping from bottles of water, as trainers massaged their aching muscles to help them prepare for the penalty kicks that would determine the World Cup champion.
July 10, 1999. The stage is set. Five players from each team are designated to kick the ball 12 yards from the net. They alternate kicks, one after another, shooter vs. goalkeeper, one on one, to decide the World Cup.
First up is China's Xie Huilin. U.S. goalkeeper Briana Scurry pulls off a slick maneuver, slightly moving forward, off her line, which is not permitted by the rules. Goalkeepers are allowed to move laterally only, not forward. But Scurry's psychological ploy is to test the officials, to see if they're able to detect her play.
Huilin steps into her kick and punches it past Scurry, beating her to her right, to the top left corner of the net. Scurry, however, is relieved that the refs don't blow the whistle on her move. She knows she might be able to fool the refs and move up and off her line again,.
Following Huilin's kick, U.S. captain Carla Overbeck beats Chinese goalkeeper Gao Hong to the right side to tie it 1-1, and pumps her fists as the crowd roars.
Next, it's Scurry vs. Qiu Haiyan. Scurry decides it's not the time to make her move. Haiyan scores, but Joy Fawcett ties it up for the Americans, slotting the ball into the right corner.
As China's Liu Ying prepares for the third kick in the series, Scurry says to herself, "OK, now." She moves up, ever so slightly, ever so discretely. Ying, a little hesitant, boots a shot to Scurry's right. Scurry dives and punches the ball away with both of her hands. Her teammates and the crowd go wild, knowing that the save might just be the difference between winning and losing the Cup.
"I knew I just had to make just one save because I knew my teammates would make their shots," Scurry would later tell the press. "So I knew if I just got one, we'd win it."
U.S. coach Tony DiCicco, a former goalkeeper himself, defends Scurry's decision to push the strict interpretation of the rulebook to its limit, saying, "You've got to stretch it. Sometimes in America, we lack sophistication in international competition. Sometimes in America, we play exactly by the written rule."
Following Scurry's save, Kristine Lilly scores to give the U.S. the lead, 3-2. It was Lilly who had made a critical play 10 minutes into the first overtime to save the game. China's Ying had played a corner kick to teammate Fan Yunjie, who flicked the ball with her head past Scurry's outstretched right arm. But there was Lilly, positioned at the left post, and she headed the ball away.
Zhang Ouying converts to keep China's hopes alive, tying the contest, 3-3, yet the stalemate is short-lived as Mia Hamm responds with a goal, giving the U.S. the lead again at 4-3.
"I was watching Gao during the kicks and she was always going right," Hamm would say. "That told me she wasn't comfortable going left. I wanted to put it in a position where she couldn't get it."
Sun Wen, China's biggest star, scores to tie it at 4-4, bringing up Chastain, who can give the U.S. the Cup if she converts. If she fails, the kicks continue, one at a time until a winner emerges.
There is concern about Chastain's ability to score clutch goals; she had missed a penalty kick against China in the Algarve Cup final in Portugal in March 1999, resulting in a 2-1 loss. Chastain was positioned to score in the first half of this game after China's goalkeeper punched Hamm's corner kick right to Chastain. But Chastain slipped, blowing the scoring opportunity.
Now, here she is, the one who can deliver the World Cup. As she sets up, she refuses to look at Gao, later saying, "Gao likes to get into a staring match and smile at you to make you uneasy. So I didn't look at her."
Chastain gets ready. The crowd stands as one, some anticipating glory, some envisioning failure. The U.S. players hold hands on the sidelines.
"I felt the pressure," Chastain would say later, "but at the same time I was very confident I could win it." The moment freezes as Chastain surveys the situation, hoping to outthink and outguess Gao. Chastain runs toward the ball and, using her left foot, she booms the ball toward the right-hand corner of the goal. Gao guesses wrong and cannot adjust. The ball shoots past her outstretched attempt to deflect the shot.
As the ball whizzes past Gao and settles into the net, Chastain, who is called Hollywood by her teammates and friends, drops to her knees, whips off her jersey and screams wildly. The entire U.S. team races onto the field in celebration. As she twirls her jersey over her head, like a lasso, driving the crowd into a frenzied celebration, Chastain is engulfed by her teammates.
"Momentary insanity," Chastain says. "I thought, 'This is the greatest moment of my career,' and I lost control."