TECHNICALLY, IT was no spectacle; World Cup finals rarely are. But the crowd went wild, the President smiled and praised the players on both sides, and America realised another sporting milestone last night.
The Americans' 5-4 victory over China on penalties after a 0-0 draw in regulation and extra time gave them the trophy for the second time at the same venue where, five years previously, Brazil had won the men's World Cup by the same method.
No one, throughout a week in which the American team have been mobbed at airports, bombarded with interview requests and even brought in a nanny to look after the kids, can quite comprehend the outpouring of football fever, or soccer as it is known here, that gripped the nation. This, after all is a country that has never quite been able to sustain interest in the men's game. This tournament, though, has been a different matter. More than 650,000 have been to the games throughout the three weeks.
On a blisteringly hot California day that covered the nearby San Gabriel mountains in a light haze, the car parks were full two hours before kick- off. Police had issued warnings about getting to the stadium early - and this to watch a women's soccer match at one of American football's most revered stadiums, the Rose Bowl.
In true American fashion, organisers turned on the style for the pre- match entertainment. After Brazil had beaten Norway in a penalty shoot- out to claim third spot, the actress-rock star Jennifer Lopez warmed up the shirt-sleeved fans with a live set, complete with fireworks, fanfares and a deafening fly-over from the American air force.
It all augured well for the real thing, which was, compared to the pre- match festivities, something of an anti-climax. It was competitive and at times clever but never enthralling. That, perhaps, had something to do with the weather which sapped the energy on both sides and made for caution rather than quickness.
But that didn't bother the host nation or the 90,000 sell-out crowd, the biggest ever to watch a women's football match. China had almost spoiled the party with a golden goal midway through the first period of extra time but Fan Yunjie's header was cleared off the line by Kristine Lilly. It was the best chance for either side in a match that produced few fireworks. Neither team produced much in the way of threatening chances, although the Chinese seemed to come alive in the first period of extra time.
The Americans controlled the midfield for most of the game, having the greater amount of possession but only rarely managing to penetrate the Chinese penalty area.
In the shoot-out that followed, Briana Scurry's brilliant one-handed save from Liu Ying was the difference between the two sides. At the final whistle the whole American team mobbed Brandi Chastain who took the final spot kick before receiving the trophy from the Fifa president Sepp Blatter.
Chastain said she had been unconcerned about the pressure on her before the decisive penalty: "We had been practising them all day, and I felt very comfortable. I wanted to step up and take it. I feel very sorry for the Chinese, but all these smiling faces makes it worthwhile."
The President, Bill Clinton, was clearly won over by the day. "There must be a billion people watching this today," he said. "It's a wonderful thing for the world, and I think it will have a very far reaching impact."
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