Greatest Women's World Cup Moments
Compared to the men’s World Cup, the FIFA Women’s World Cup is just a baby. The first tournament was held in 1991, with the ninth edition happening in Australia and New Zealand in summer 2023.
But even with the event's brief history, there has been no shortage of magical moments. From historic goals to ghastly injuries to off-field controversies, the Women’s World Cup has seen the good, bad and ugly of sports.
Some of these moments were fleeting. Others still impact the game. All of them remain memorable.
Here are the greatest moments in Women’s World Cup history — ranked in order of their importance to women’s soccer.
26. A Broken Nose and Broken Hearts
Location: Olympiastadion in Berlin, Germany
What happened: Canada’s Christine Sinclair returned to play with a special mask after breaking her nose in the World Cup opener.
Bottom line: You wait four years for the World Cup to roll around, and then you break your nose in the opening match!? That’s what happened to Canada’s all-time leading scorer Christine Sinclair.
The doctors urged her to stop playing, as she was at risk of further injury, which would lead to surgery. But Sinclair opted to keep playing, donned a special mask and continued to represent her country over the remainder of the tournament.
"I was like, 'OK, my nose is still there. I can carry on,'" Sinclair said, according to FIFA.com. "The coaching staff thought it was dangerous, but I promised them I wouldn’t take another knock ... It’s the World Cup. You need to have like a broken leg to keep me out of World Cup games."
25. Kristine Lilly Uses Her Head (Literally)
Location: Rose Bowl in Pasadena (near Los Angeles), California, United States
What happened: Kristine Lilly prevented a goal in extra time by blocking a shot in net with her head after it got by the U.S. goalkeeper.
Bottom line: The 1999 Women's World Cup final went to extra time with the golden rule in effect. That meant that any goal by the U.S. team or China would result in a World Cup victory.
China had the best opportunity on a corner kick in which a player headed the ball past a diving Briana Scurry. However, Lilly had planted herself on the line and made a jumping header to keep the ball out of the net.
Without Lilly being aware to be in the right place at the right time, China would have won the World Cup on U.S. soil. Instead, the U.S. won on penalty kicks.
24. New Kids on the Block
What happened: This World Cup was expanded from 16 to 24 teams, and the bigger tournament meant that eight nations made their Women’s World Cup debuts.
Bottom line: The first two Women's World Cups had 12 teams, and the next three had 16 teams. But by 2011, expansion was needed, so the Women’s World Cup grew by 50 percent to 24 teams.
The additional teams meant an increase in the number of matches from 32 to 52.
Of the eight nations who made their World Cup debuts, Cameroon, Switzerland and the Netherlands advanced the farthest — all making the Round of 16.
23. Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better
Location: Strömvallen in Gävle, Sweden
What happened: During a group stage match against Denmark, Team USA forward Mia Hamm donned goalkeeper’s gear after Briana Scurry received a red card.
Bottom line: A couple of years before Mia Hamm starred in the commercial with Michael Jordan set to the song of "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)," the famed U.S. striker showed she could even play keeper.
After starting goalkeeper Briana Scurry received a red card against Denmark and was sent off in the 88th minute, just after the U.S. used its last substitute, someone already on the field had to take Curry’s place. That someone was Hamm.
She didn’t just stand in goal, either. Hamm made two saves in the final minutes to preserve the 2-0 lead.
22. FIFA Getting Stingy With Its Brand
What happened: The inaugural Women’s World Cup was officially titled the "1st FIFA World Championship for Women's Football for the M&M's Cup."
Bottom line: FIFA was unsure about the staying power of the Women’s World Cup when it launched, so they didn’t bestow the "World Cup" title to the tournament. Instead, FIFA gave it a long-winded, 11-word name and included the sponsor of M&M’s in the name.
After seeing the success of the tournament, which had a total attendance of more than 500,000 people, FIFA gave in, and every "World Cup" since then has been called the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
21. Megan Rapinoe Belts Out Bruce
Location: Rhein-Neckar-Arena in Sinsheim, Germany
What happened: USA’s Megan Rapinoe scored a goal against Colombia in the group stage before belting out Bruce Springsteen into a microphone.
Bottom line: Megan Rapinoe came on as a sub in the game and immediately made her presence felt. She received a pass in the box from Lauren Cheney, dribbled around a defender and belted one into the back of the net.
But she wasn’t done. As she celebrated, Rapinoe ran to an on-field microphone, tapped it and then screamed Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." to the delight of her teammates.
20. Bend It Like Mjelde
Location: Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, Canada
What happened: In a group stage match against Germany, Norway’s Maren Mjelde bends the ball like David Beckham to score a beautiful goal on a free kick.
Bottom line: On a free kick just outside the box, Germany had a wall set up to protect the left side of the goal while the keeper was on the right side.
With so little distance between the wall and the goal, no one thought Maren Mjelde could both loft the ball over the wall and still keep it from sailing over the goal.
But she hit the perfect curving shot, which just clipped the crossbar, to land in the upper 90.
19. Marta Wows as USA Bows
Location: Yellow Dragon Stadium in Hangzhou, China
What happened: Brazil’s Marta executes a beautiful heel kick, which leads to a goal and helps eliminate the U.S. in the semifinals.
Bottom line: Marta showed why she was the reigning FIFA Player of the Year, putting the icing on the cake of Brazil’s victory over the United States.
In the 79th minute, Marta used a back heel to pass the ball to herself, shook off an opponent grabbing her jersey, eluded another defender and kicked it past the keeper for her second goal of the match.
That goal put Brazil up 4-0 and sent the Seleção to the World Cup final. But Brazil fell short of the title, losing to Germany in the championship.
18. The Kiss Heard ‘Round the World
Location: Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai, China
What happened: England’s Kelly Smith netted two goals in two minutes against Japan to ensure the Lionesses would escape with points.
Bottom line: England was trailing 1-0 in the 81st minute when Kelly Smith received a pass in the box and converted it into a goal.
The score was her first World Cup goal, and she didn’t know how to celebrate so she took her cleat off and kissed it.
Two minutes later, Smith scored again to put England ahead 2-1, although Japan tied it up again in extra time to earn a 2-2 draw.
17. Scoring on Norway? No Way
What happened: Norway had the most dominating defensive performance ever seen by any nation in the men’s or Women’s World Cup.
Bottom line: Coming off a victory at the 1995 Euros, Norway expected big things, and the players delivered.
The team ran roughshod through the group stage with wins of 8-0, 2-0 and 7-0 before allowing its first goal in a 3-1 win in the quarterfinals. That was the only goal Norway allowed, defeating the U.S. 1-0 in the semis and then knocking off Germany 2-0 in the finals.
In total, Norway scored 23 goals and allowed just one goal — the fewest goals ever conceded by a men’s or women’s champion at that point.
16. SARS Changes Plans
What happened: A SARS outbreak forced FIFA to relocate the Women’s World Cup from China to the United States.
Bottom line: In late 2002, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) afflicted south China and led to 774 deaths around the world. The outbreak extended into mid-2003 and forced FIFA to consider relocation for that year’s World Cup, which started in September.
FIFA settled on the U.S. because it had hosted the previous World Cup in 1999 and had the best infrastructure to host another one with such little time to prepare.
As the host country, the U.S. women's national team finished in third place (Germany won), and China was named host of the 2007 tournament.
15. Germany Undresses Argentina
Location: Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai, China
What happened: Germany defeated Argentina 11-0 in a record-breaking match to open the 2007 Women’s World Cup.
Bottom line: You can imagine 11-0 being the score of a baseball game or even a football game, but a soccer game?
Argentina is a blue blood in men’s soccer and has won two World Cups, but the women’s team has never been ranked in the top 25 in its history.
Germany kicked off the 2007 tournament by posting the biggest win and the highest-scoring match in not only Women’s World Cup history, but World Cup history, period.
14. Michelle Akers Christens the WWC
What happened: U.S. forward Michelle Akers left her stamp on the first Women’s World Cup by scoring 10 goals to win the Golden Boot as the tournament's top scorer.
Bottom line: There were 99 goals scored in the first Women's World Cup, and Michelle Akers scored more than 10 percent of those goals.
Five of Akers' 10 goals came in a 7-0 quarterfinal win over Chinese Taipei as she had a had trick by the 33rd minute. In the final, which the U.S. won 2-1 over Norway, Akers scored both of the goals and finished the tournament with three more goals than the player with the second-most goals scored.
Akers was named the tournament’s Silver Ball winner while teammate Carin Jennings won the Golden Ball as the event’s best player.
13. A Cruel Ending for England
Location: Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Canada
What happened: England’s Laura Bassett was victimized by an own goal in extra time in a semifinal loss against Japan.
Bottom line: England and Japan were tied at 1-1 in the 90th minute of their semifinal matchup, and the match seemed destined for extra time.
But then the unlikeliest of scenarios played out as England defender Laura Bassett attempted to clear the ball over her own net but instead lobbed it over her keeper for an own goal.
The ball just clipped the underside of the crossbar, then bounced on the other side of the line to put Japan up 2-1 in the second minute of added time, and the Japanese women went on to win the game.
12. Turf War
What happened: Controversy erupted prior to the start of the World Cup when it was revealed that every match would be played on artificial turf.
Bottom line: Players do not enjoy playing on artificial turf. "[Your feet] just turn white, your skin is all ripped off. It's like walking on hot coal with your skin blistering and cracking," said Australian striker Michelle Heyman.
Whether it’s soccer, baseball or football, nearly all athletes prefer to play on a natural surface such as grass over a synthetic turf, which leads to more injuries. Not only is turf rough on your knees and feet, but it can reach unsafe temperatures well over 100 degrees.
Many of the elite women’s soccer players filed a lawsuit in protest once they were informed they would be playing on turf, but the tournament went on as planned despite complaints from the players.
11. Megan Rapinoe Strikes a Pose
What happened: After scoring the U.S. Women's first goal against France in the quarter-final match, Megan Rapinoe strikes a pose that won't be forgotten.
Bottom line: Rapinoe was on fire in the 2019 Women's World Cup. Not only did she show up on the field, earning the World Cup Golden Boot and Golden Ball at the end of the tournament, but she was also very vocal about politics during her moment in the spotlight. She was one of the prominent players to speak out about getting equal pay for female athletes in the U.S. as well as advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and speaking out against Donald Trump's policies.
Whether you love her or not, her six goals and three assists throughout the tournament were undeniably pose-worthy.
10. Sweden’s Stunning Comeback
Location: Olympia Stadium in Helsingborg, Sweden
What happened: Host country Sweden rallied from a 2-0 second-half deficit to shock eventual runner-up Germany.
Bottom line: Unlike nearly every other sport, in soccer, no one, single event can turn a deficit into a lead. You need a chain of events — i.e., multiple goals to do that. And that’s what Sweden got in the group stage.
Trailing Germany 2-0 in the 65th minute, the team unleashed a furious rally that included two goals in the final 10 minutes. Sweden prevailed 3-2 and advanced to the knockout stage before falling in the quarterfinals.
9. Sissi Makes Golden Goal History
Location: Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover, Maryland, United States
What happened: Brazil’s Sissi scored the first golden goal in the history of women’s professional soccer against Nigeria in the quarterfinals.
Bottom line: The controversial golden goal was in use during the 1999 Women's World Cup, and it came into play thanks to a dramatic Nigerian comeback. They overcame a 3-0 deficit to Brazil to knot things up in the 85th minute and send the game into extra time.
There, Sissi received a free kick about 10 yards outside the box and brilliantly, and unexpectedly, chipped one in at the near corner. With Sissi being left-footed, you expected her to aim for the far (right) post, but she surprised the keeper by going left. And it worked.
8. Hope Solo’s Hissy Fit
Location: Yellow Dragon Stadium in Hangzhou, China
What happened: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is benched before a semifinals loss to Brazil, and she threw a temper tantrum afterward.
Bottom line: Hope Solo had posted three straight clean sheets heading into the U.S. team's semifinal matchup against Brazil. However, U.S. coach Greg Ryan decided to bench Solo in favor of veteran goalkeeper Briana Scurry.
The move backfired as Scurry gave up four goals, and the U.S. lost its first match since 2004. Afterward, Solo criticized the coach’s decision and called out Scurry for her performance.
"There's no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves," Solo said. "And the fact of the matter is, it's not 2004 anymore ... It's 2007, and I think you have to live in the present. And you can't live by big names. You can't live in the past. It doesn't matter what somebody did in an Olympic gold-medal game in the Olympics three years ago. Now is what matters, and that's what I think."
7. Japan Triumphs After Heartbreak
Location: Commerzbank-Arena in Frankfurt, Germany
What happened: Japan won its first World Cup just months after the third deadliest earthquake in history.
Bottom line: In March 2011, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan led to over 20,000 deaths. Just three months later, Japan took the field at the World Cup and played with heavy hearts.
Not much was expected of the Japanese after they failed to advance past the group stage in the three previous World Cups and finished in just third place in regional qualifying.
But they managed to advance all the way to the final and played the U.S. to a 2-2 draw after 120 minutes. The game then went to a shootout, which Japan won 3-1 to become the first and only Asian nation to win a men's or Women's World Cup.
6. Abby Wambach Saves Her Best for Last
Location: Rudolf-Harbig-Stadion in Dresden, Germany
What happened: Abby Wambach scored in added time in the quarterfinals against Brazil to send the match to a shootout, which the United States won.
Bottom line: The U.S. women jumped out to a lead in the second minute, but it would be another two hours of play before they would score again.
Down 2-1 in stoppage time of extra time, the U.S. needed a miracle, and they got one. Megan Rapinoe crossed it into the box, where a waiting Wambach was in perfect position to head it in.
Just two minutes later, the game went to a penalty shootout, where Wambach scored again, this time with her foot, as the U.S. won on PKs, 5-3.
5. The Unstoppable Force Meets the Immovable Object
Location: Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai, China
What happened: Undefeated Brazil, which scored 17 goals, met undefeated Germany, which allowed zero goals, in the World Cup final.
Bottom line: It’s nice when the two clear-cut best teams meet in the final, and that’s what happened after Germany and Brazil both had shutout wins in the semis.
Germany was the better defensive team, having not conceded a goal all tournament, while Brazil was the better offensive team and had the Golden Shoe winner in Marta.
They say defense wins championships, and that was the case with this matchup as Germany defeated Brazil 2-0.
Germany finished the tournament without allowing a single goal to set a new Women’s World Cup record for fewest conceded goals.
4. A Golden Goal Ends It All
Location: Home Depot Center in Carson, California, United States
What happened: Germany defeated Sweden thanks to the only golden goal in World Cup history to decide a final.
Bottom line: The golden goal was used as an experiment during the 2003 Women's World Cup final. In extra time, whichever team scored first would win, so it was sudden death.
Germany fell into a 1-0 first half deficit before evening things up early in the second half. The game stayed knotted at 1-1 at the end of regulation.
In the 98th minute, Nia Künzer, who came on as a sub in the 88th minute, scored off a free kick to give Germany its first Women’s World Cup title.
The golden goal would not be used for a Women's World Cup final again.
3. The Most Famous Sports Bra in the World
Location: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, United States
What happened: After scoring the game-winning penalty kick to give the U.S. the World Cup win, Brandi Chastain removed her jersey in jubilation.
Bottom line: When it comes to the most famous athlete celebrations, there’s the Tiger Woods fist pump, the Michael Jordan goose neck and Brandi Chastain ripping off her jersey. The image of a kneeling Chastain with her jersey in her hand and her fists clenched is one of the most famous photos in sports history and was immortalized on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
"Momentary insanity, nothing more, nothing less," Chastain said afterwards, per FIFA.com. "I wasn’t thinking about anything. I thought, 'My God, this is the greatest moment of my life on the soccer field.'"
2. A Hat Trick for the Ages
Location: BC Place in Vancouver, Canada
What happened: Carli Lloyd became the first women to record a hat trick in a World Cup final, and it took her just 16 minutes to accomplish the feat.
Bottom line: Already with gold medal-winning goals from two Olympics on her resume, Carli Lloyd added to her legend by recording the fastest hat trick in World Cup history.
The third goal was one of the greatest soccer goals ever witnessed, as Lloyd caught Japan’s keeper off her line and struck the ball from nearly midfield.
The ball sailed over the keeper’s head to put the U.S. women's team up 4-0 en route to a 5-2 win.
1. 'Rock Stars' for the Win
Location: Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, United States
What happened: The World Cup final went to a penalty shootout, where Brandi Chastain converted the fifth attempt to give the U.S. women a World Cup victory in front of their home fans.
Bottom line: After the U.S. and China combined for 37 games through 10 games in the World Cup, neither could find the net through 120 minutes of play in the final. That sent the game to a shootout, where China converted four of its five opportunities.
The U.S. women converted their first four tries. That meant the game could be decided with Brandi Chastain’s fifth attempt. The Chinese keeper guessed right and dove to her left, where Chastain kicked it, but the ball traveled faster than the keeper, and it went into the back corner of the net.
The U.S. won the tournament in front of over 90,000 home fans — the largest crowd to have ever watched a women’s sporting event.