GUANGZHOU, China -- The United Statse won its first international soccer championship last night when it defeated Norway, 2-1, to take the first World Cup trophy for women.
At the end of the game, 12 Chinese motorcyclists carrying the flags of the tournament's 12 competing nations zoomed onto the field, and a float draped in tinsel and flashing lights with a model of the trophy set in a lotus flower was moved to the center of the field.
Amid a huge shower of fireworks, with a Chinese pop song blaring from stadium loudspeakers, the 18 jubilant Americans received their championship medals and big bouquets of flowers, as friends and parents in the stands cheered hoarsely and waved small American flags.
A crowd of 65,000 Chinese packed Tianhe Stadium in this sprawling southern China city for the final, cheering both teams and even trying to perfect the wave.
They saw an evenly played first half, in which each side scored one goal. But the Norwegians largely controlled the second half, preventing the United States from scoring its second goal until two minutes before the end of the game. Both United States goals were scored by Michelle Akers-Stahl, the team's powerful, determined forward from Oviedo, Fla.
"Even though the Norwegians were controlling the ball for the last half of the game, I just knew somehow we would score," said Akers-Stahl, who stole a weak pass back to the Norwegian goalie by defender Tina Svensson -- an incredible lapse for a world-class player -- dodged around goalie Reidun Seth and pushed the game-winner into the net.
U.S. coach Anson Dorrance conceded that Norway had outplayed his team in the second half. "Norway had the run of play and we got the break," he said. "I consider my team an excited but certainly very lucky world champion."
But Dorrance added, "I feel what we've done here is proof to the world we are a developing soccer nation."
The women's team is already fully developed: The Americans were unbeaten in six games during the two-week tournament, outscoring opponents by 25-5. Akers-Stahl, their most potent scorer, had 10 goals.
On the bus ride from the stadium, team members passed around the FIFA trophy and savored their victory to the theme music from the movie "Working Girl," a story about a talented secretary who rises in the male-dominated business world.
If the U.S. team is Cinderella after she was fitted with the glass slipper, women's soccer remains Cinderella before. Despite impressive growth, the women's game does not begin to command the respect and rabid interest that men's soccer enjoys.
A relatively new competitive sport, women's soccer dates back only to the 1970s, both in the United States and Europe. FIFA, soccer's international governing body, has men's teams in 165 countries; 65 of those countries now have a women's soccer team, with countries joining those ranks each year.
"Men's soccer is an Olympic competition, but the international committee says women's soccer doesn't have a big enough world impact," said Akers-Stahl, who noted that many here hoped that the success of this first world championships would influence the International Olympic Committee to consider including women's soccer in the Olympics.
"Hopefully this world championship will put some stars in their eyes," said Akers-Stahl.
Scores of Chinese reporters dutifully covered every game here, with television sometimes airing two hours of game highlights and player interviews.
But officials believe the sport received a real boost from the foreign television crews who have beamed highlights and live and tape-delayed games to more than 100 countries.