The U.S. team won the Women's World Cup soccer final 5-2 in a game that brought U.S. fans to their feet, reduced polished sportswriters to all-caps expressions of awe and rewrote FIFA records — and that was just in the first half.
The game began in spectacular fashion: In the first five minutes, captain Carli Lloyd scored two swift goals — the fastest two goals in FIFA history, according to the FIFA Women's World Cup Twitter account.
Just a few minutes later, Lauren Holiday brought the score up to 3-0.
And then Lloyd did it again: She scored — from midfield — to raise the score to an astounding 4-0, just 15 minutes into the game. It was the first hat trick in a Women's World Cup final and the fastest hat trick in any World Cup game.
And did we mention it was a strike from midfield?
The U.S. lead was definitive, but Japan hadn't given up. They scored an elegant goal in the 27th minute, finally giving Japan fans something to cheer about.
As NPR's Russell Lewis reported before the game, the U.S. team made it to the final thanks to some remarkable work on defense:
"The U.S. has played six games in the World Cup and hasn't given up a goal since its opener against Australia — a stunning scoreless streak of 513 minutes. Not surprisingly, the three nominees from the United States for FIFA's 'Golden Ball' award play defense and midfield."
When that streak finally ended at 540 minutes, it tied Germany's 2007 World Cup record. But while defense brought the U.S. women to the final, it was offense that was shining on the field.
In the second half, Julie Johnston scored an own goal that Hope Solo couldn't block, bringing Japan's score to 2. A few minutes later, Tobin Heath scored again for the U.S., bringing America back to another dominant lead: 5-2.
With 10 minutes remaining, star forward Abby Wambach came on the field. Lloyd passed her teammate the captain's armband — giving Wambach the chance to wear it one last time. This was Wambach's final World Cup game.
The American women held their 5-2 lead through game's end.
They earned their trophy in a Canadian stadium packed with U.S. fans. The crowd booed FIFA officials when they came to the stands, reports NPR's Melissa Block, who was in the stands — but they had nothing but cheers for the players. Japan's players, after fighting hard all game, stoically applauded the victors as Team USA was showered with gold glitter.
The game was a rematch of the 2011 World Cup final, which Japan won in a dramatic penalty kick shootout. That game was tense: 1-1 at the end of regulation and 2-2 at the end of overtime, before Japan won the shootout 3-1.
That heartbreaking loss was driving the Americans as they headed into Sunday's game. "It's kind of been that thing that's been within us, that fuels our fire, that motivates us," Wambach said Friday.
And the U.S. women burned that fuel all the way to victory.