The 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final was one for the ages. The US Women’s National Team defeated defending champs Japan in a thrilling 5-2 victory, claiming their first World Cup title since 1999 and cementing sport icon status for captain Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan.
The game was the highest-scoring final in tournament history and the match’s details were jaw-dropping. The USWNT scored four goals in the first 27 minutes of the game, including a hat trick (three goals) for Carli Lloyd, the fastest in Women’s World Cup history. Japan pulled within two in the second half until forward Tobin Heath scored the final goal in the 54th minute to put the game out of reach.
But as sure-handed as their final victory was, the road to get there had its bumps. The USWNT emerged from the group round as the top-ranked team with victories over Australia and Nigeria, but could only duel Sweden to a 0-0 tie. In the knockout rounds, they came out on top in tense games against Colombia and China and took a tie with Germany into the second half before Carli Lloyd netted a penalty kick. Kelley O’Hara’s late goal sealed the victory and sent the US to the championship.
The victory represented USWNT’s chance to prove themselves a true global powerhouse; though typically ranked among the top teams in the world, they hadn’t won a World Cup since the legendary 1999 run, 16 years prior. In 2011, the US lost the final to Japan in heartbreaking back-and-forth game that ended in penalty kicks, making the 2015 win all the sweeter.
Now, as defending champions and the top-ranked team going into the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the USWNT might be facing their toughest competition yet. They’ll once again be taking on Sweden in group play, the same team that knocked them out of contention in the 2016 Olympics quarterfinals. And the US’s defense, once seemingly impenetrable, has shown weaknesses recently; Julie Foudy, former USWNT player and current ESPN analyst, told POPSUGAR in a previous interview that the team is likely to rely more on their high-octane offense than in past years.
Only one team has won back-to-back Women’s World Cups: Germany, in 2003 and 2007. As this year’s tournament kicks off, make sure to meet these 26 players to watch, relive the USWNT’s best moments, and follow all the action to see if the US can defend their crown. Check out highlights of all the 2015 games ahead.