Women’s World Cup Memories: 10 Most Memorable USWNT World Cup Matches

By: Michael Lewis

The U.S. Women's National Team is putting the finishing touches on its preparation for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup in New Zealand and Australia and are almost set to embark on a new journey on the biggest stage for women’s soccer. As the team prepares to kick off the tournament against Vietnam (9 p.m. ET on July 21 / 1 p.m. NZT on July 22; FOX, Telemundo, Universo and Peacock), take a look back at some of the USWNT’s most memorable World Cup matches over the past 32 years.

November 17, 1991 – USA 3, Sweden 2

In their first ever Women’s World Cup match, the Americans started off on the right foot with a 3-2 win over a tough Sweden side - led by future USWNT head coach Pia Sundhage - in Guangzhou, China. Carin Jennings lifted the U.S. to a two-goal lead as she scored on either side of halftime, with goals in the 40th and 49th minutes. Nineteen-year-old Mia Hamm added a third tally in the 62nd minute before Sweden scored in the 65th and 71st minute to close the gap. The USA defense and goalkeeper Mary Harvey then locked down the Swedes to preserve the victory. The USWNT went on to win Group B with a perfect 3-0-0 record, outscoring its foes 11-2, and conceded only three more goals the remainder of the tournament.

November 30, 1991 – USA 2, Norway 1

Back in the day, the Norwegians were the USA's top rivals and the inaugural Women’s World Cup Final was the start of a rivalry that bubbled into early 2000s as as the two countries met for the world title in Guangzhou, China. The championship match was decided by Michelle Akers' goal with two minutes remaining in regulation, which in fact came in the 78th  minute as matches were only 80 minutes long at the 1991 Women’s World Cup, an odd note in history that was corrected for the 1995 tournament. Akers had given the Americans a 20th-minute advantage, but long-time U.S. nemesis Linda Medalen equalized nine minutes later for Norway. With time running out in regulation, Akers intercepted a back pass from Norway’s Tina Svensson and rounded goalkeeper Reidun Seth to seal the win with a shot from a tight angle. “Everyone on the team said their hearts were stopping, because they didn’t think I would ever shoot the ball,” Akers said. “I was just making sure I wouldn’t miss.”

June 19, 1999 – USA 3, Denmark 0

Soon on their way to becoming household names, Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy and Kristine Lilly, all scored in a 3-0 win over Denmark in the opening game of the 1999 FIFA Women’s Women Cup. That wasn’t the big story of the day. That would be the capacity record crowd of 78,972 fans that poured into Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. to watch the American women in action on home soil. That opening match set the tone of the tournament and started the rise of women's soccer, not just in the United States, but worldwide. Huge crowds continued to watch the USA the rest of the ’99 tournament. That included 65,080 in Chicago, 50,484 in Foxborough, Mass., 54,642 in the quarterfinal in Landover, Md., 73,123 in the semifinal in Palo Alto, Calif. and a world-record 90,185 for the World Cup Final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

July 1, 1999 - USA 3, Germany 2

In terms of drama and intensity, it rarely got better than this. In a game for the ages, the never-say-die Americans overcame defensive errors and a pair of one-goal deficits to register a 3-2 quarterfinal victory over rivals Germany in front of a crowd of 54,642 and President Clinton and his family at Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover, Md. Five minutes after kickoff, defender Brandi Chastain intercepted a through-ball by Maren Meinert and accidentally kicked it past goalkeeper Briana Scurry and into her own goal. Forward Tiffney Milbrett equalized for the Americans in the 16th minute to knot the score at 1-1. The Germans grabbed the lead again a minute into first-half stoppage time behind a Bettina Wiegmann score. In a bit of poetic justice, Chastain atoned for her mistake, scoring four minutes into the second half to equalize at 2-2. Only 20 seconds after she replaced Julie Foudy, Shannon MacMillan lined a corner kick into the box that defender Joy Fawcett – her best friend on the team -- headed home in the 66th minute from point-blank range, sending the Americans through to the semifinal.

July 10, 1999 – USA 0, China 0 (5-3, PKs)

Who says scoreless draws are boring? In another encounter between the two best sides on the planet, the Americans survived a thriller that needed 120 minutes and 10 penalty kicks to determine the third World Cup winner in front of world record crowd of 90,185 for a women's sporting event. Ten minutes into the first period of extra time, China came close to grabbing a 1-0 lead as Fan Yunjie's looping header from about seven yards out was in turn headed off the goal line by Kristine Lilly. It was one of the most important moments in USWNT history. After the teams traded PK conversions in the shootout -- Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett put theirs away to open the proceedings for the USA -- goalkeeper Briana Scurry dove to her left to deny Liu Ying on China's third attempt. Lilly and Mia Hamm scored on their tries as did two Chinese players. That left it up to Brandi Chastain, who fired a left-footed shot into the upper right-corner for the game-winner. Chastain immediately took off her jersey and whipped it around in celebration. "Momentary insanity," she said of the moment that was quickly immortalized in sporting history and to this day stands as a watershed moment for women’s sports.

July 10, 2011 – USA 2, Brazil 2 (5-4, PKs)

Only minutes from failing to reach the World Cup semifinals for the first time, Abby Wambach rescued the USA with a dramatic goal two minutes into stoppage time in the second period of extra time against Brazil in Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion, Dresden. Two minutes after the opening kickoff, defender Daiane gifted the U.S. an own goal. Brazilian legend Marta tied it with a 68th-minute penalty kick. Tied 1-1 at the end of regulation, Marta struck again two minutes into the first extra period to boost the South Americans into a 2-1 advantage. With time running out, Carli Lloyd fought off Maurine at midfield and passed to Megan Rapinoe on the left flank. Rapinoe then sent a long yet pin-point cross to Wambach at the far post, and she headed it past goalkeeper Andreia for a spectacular tying score. In the shootout, all five American players -- Shannon Boxx, Lloyd, Wambach, Rapinoe and Ali Krieger -- converted their attempts. On the Brazilians' third attempt, goalkeeper Hope Solo dove to her right to punch away Daiane's shot, opening the door for Krieger to send the USA to the semifinals with a decisive fifth penalty.

July 17, 2011 – Japan 2, USA 2 (3-1, PKs)

The 2011 Women’s World Cup produced another classic, but one that also served as a reminder that not every memorable game is a win. Case in point: the 2011 World Cup Final which pitted the USA against a talented and inspired Japan side in Frankfurt, Germany. All the scoring came after the 60th minute as the Americans punched, and the Japanese counterpunched. A young Alex Morgan lifted the USWNT into a 69th-minute lead, but Aya Miyama knotted it up in the 81st minute. Wambach scored yet again in extra time in the 104th  minute, but Homare Sawa somehow equalized with a 117th-minute tally for a 2-2 deadlock. In the shootout, the U.S.'s luck ran out. Boxx, Lloyd and Tobin Heath failed to put away their chances as Wambach was the lone American to score. The Japanese, whose homeland had been rocked by the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster that March, won the shootout, 3-1, and their first world championship.

July 5, 2015 - USA 5, Japan 2

Putting on one of the most brilliant displays ever in a final, the USA secured a stunning 5-2 triumph over defending champion Japan in Vancouver to hoist the World Cup trophy for the first time since 1999. Carli Lloyd led the charge with a virtuoso performance and a never-to-be-forgotten 13-minute hat trick early in the first half, the Americans broke a 16-year drought as they became the first team to win three World Cups. Lloyd, the Golden Ball winner as the tournament’s top player and the Silver Boot winner, struck two goals in the opening five minutes. She converted Megan Rapinoe's corner kick from eight yards in the third minute for the fastest goal in World Cup Finals history and then beat goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori from point-blank range. Lauren Holiday interrupted Lloyd's showcase performance with her first goal of the tournament on a brilliant volley in the 14th minute before Lloyd completed her hat-trick in spectacular fashion. Noticing that Kaihori was standing too far out of the net, Lloyd audaciously booted a shot from just over midfield, smashing the ball 55 yards over the ‘keeper. Tobin Heath added the fifth goal for the Americans.

June 28, 2019 – USA 2, France 1

In a match widely regarded as one of the greatest in Women’s World Cup history, Megan Rapinoe twice found a way to quiet a raucous home crowd of 45,595 in this intense quarterfinal confrontation against the hosts at Parc des Princes in Paris. After Alex Morgan was fouled just to the left of the penalty area in the fifth minute and Rapinoe sent a probing ball that found its way through a maze of players, through the legs of Eugenie Le Sommer and past France ‘keeper Sarah Bouhaddi. In the 65th  minute, Tobin Heath latched onto a ball on the right wing. It appeared that her low cross had missed Sam Mewis, but an open Rapinoe had no trouble slotting it home from eight yards on the left side for a two-goal advantage. The goal was needed because center back Wendie Renard headed home a free kick from the left side from five yards to slice the margin in half in the 81st minute. The game also will be remembered for the great battle on the right flank. Despite giving away four inches to forward Diani Kadidiatou on the right flank, left back Crystal Dunn held the French forward in check as the Americans advanced to yet another World Cup semifinal while knocking the hosts out in Paris.

July 7, 2019 – USA 2, Netherlands 0

The defending champion Americans made history, becoming the first women's team to win four World Cups as goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher backstopped her fourth clean sheet of the tournament. Megan Rapinoe, who took home the Golden Ball and Golden Boot, converted a penalty kick in the 61st minute after VAR determined that Dutch defender Stefanie Van Der Gragt had fouled Alex Morgan in the box. Midfielder Rose Lavelle, who earned the Bronze Ball, added an insurance score in the 69th minute, on a brilliant run through the middle of the park. She split Anouk Dekker and Van Der Gragt to power a shot just outside the penalty area into the lower right corner before a capacity crowd of 57,900 at Le Stade de Lyon in Lyon, France. The USA ran the table, winning all seven matches and never trailing at any point throughout the tournament. The team also outscored its foes by an impressive 26-3 margin on its run to back-to-back World Cup titles.