This feature is part of Virtuoso
It was the moment 53,341 people collectively held their breath as one. The moment millions more spellbound at home had to question if they were really seeing what was unfolding in front of their very eyes. From Cambodia to Canada, Ecuador to England, Jamaica to Japan; the world watched as a quite incredible moment in history played out over the course of just 16 short minutes in Vancouver, Canada, 2015. It was left to Carli Lloyd, United States of America superstar, to drink in the acclaim.
Arms aloft, Lloyd turned back towards her own half and was swallowed up by her delirious teammates. The 32-year-old had just completed her hat-trick for the US women’s national team and she’d done it in a World Cup final in front of the eyes of millions. Something to tell the grandchildren, along with the fact she had done it in a mere 13-minute spell; a spell that had left opponents and rivals Japan 4-0 down after an incredible opening 16 minutes in which Lloyd, along with a sweet Lauren Holiday volley, leave the Nadeshiko decimated in their bid to win the tournament for a second consecutive time.
For the 32-year-old, 10 days shy of her 33rd birthday, her 67th, 68th and 69th international goals were her utopia, the World Cup her Everest, and the only title missing from Lloyd’s array of triumphs over the years. A CV which included six Algarve Cups, a CONCACAF Championship, two Olympic golds and a whole host of individual awards, a tally of which would triple post-Canada 2015.
From her first international goal in a 10-0 thumping of Chinese Taipei in a friendly back in 2006, Lloyd’s 66 goals up until 6 July 2015 included an Algarve Cup final goal, the winner in the 2008 Olympic gold medal match against Brazil, further goals in the 2010 and 2011 Algarve Cup finals, both in the 2012 Olympic gold medal match and goals preceding the World Cup final in the round of 16, quarter-final and semi-final.
It was perhaps fate that Lloyd should take the starring role in BC Place on that warm summer afternoon. No assistant to the doctor, no bridesmaid to the bride, no Robin to Batman; it was always going to be the day the world knew Carli Lloyd’s name.
Japan had shocked the world four years previous, when they beat the all-conquering USA on penalties, and they were out to deny Lloyd and her teammates once again when the two nations stepped out to do battle. Under the leadership of Jill Ellis, the US hadn’t hit their stride during the tournament whilst Japan were bouncing off the back of a last-minute victory against England in the semi-final.
With their unique brand of technical football seen in very few corners of the world within the confines of the women’s game, many felt Japan were adequately equipped to once again do more than just bother a side with the world-renowned talents such as captain Christie Rampone and striker Abby Wambach.
Within three minutes, those expectations had to be altered. Within 16 minutes, the script was ripped up, the headlines already written, the new narrative set. The USA were world champions with 74 minutes still to go, the rest was just white noise. In truth, Japan never got going, undone within the opening minutes by a set-piece straight off the training ground, one which midfielder Lloyd took full advantage of.
A corner driven in low by Megan Rapinoe, recognisable through her flashes of short, bright hair, found the onrushing Lloyd who consummately swept in a first-time effort with the outside of her left foot into the corner of the net. On first viewing, it looked like a simple goal. On viewing it a second, a third and however many times it has been viewed since, the ease in which Lloyd scored the goal, given the technique needed, showed a player at the peak of her ability.
Perhaps we should have known. No whiff in the air, no obvious sign of what was to come, no notice of Lloyd’s intentions over the course of the next 13 minutes, but the first goal should have been a precursor to everyone to at least not go and put the kettle on anytime soon.
The capacity crowd had barely returned their backsides to their seats before the US, and Lloyd, doubled their advantage, once again a set-piece the undoing. A team of a small, technical players failed to cope with a team comprising of relative physical giants in comparison. A free-kick not cleared, Lloyd this time had the easy task of scuffing the ball home from no more than three yards and not even five minutes had elapsed on the clock and the world champions found themselves 2-0 down and in disarray.
Before Lloyd could give the world its moment that women’s football would remember forever, Lauren Holiday joined in the fun as Japan struggled to cope with the enormity of what was happening to them. Errors were strewn throughout a team that simply didn’t know what had hit them. Japan were caught in a USA-sized net. The partisan North American crowd roaring on from all corners around them, it was no surprise when Azusa Iwashimizu looped a headed clearance only onto the foot of Holiday who coolly hammered home a volley into the roof of the net.
A player already a centurion for the Nadeshiko, if Iwashimizu of all players was making errors then it showed Japan had been broken mentally. The team tried to pull themselves together, an impromptu gathering of their players in the middle of the pitch one of the lasting images of the tournament. Iwashimizu was put out of her misery after a mere 33 minutes, replaced by the timeless Homare Sawa.
Three minutes later, it happened. The moment the opening 13 minutes should have shown was coming, but nobody knew was. Lloyd, sitting on one of the most memorable hat-tricks ever scored in either side of the sport, picked up the ball after another error from Japan, beat her marker with a nimble touch and carried the ball towards the halfway line, still inside her own half of the pitch. Sensing this specific few seconds in history were meant for her, seeing that Japan goalkeeper Ayumi Kaihori was off her line, the 32-year-old let gravity do its thing.
Unleashing the ball from her right foot, time stood still as the 53,000 people inside BC Place, the hundreds more in the Vancouver fan zone, the millions still taking in what was unfolding around the world – whether it was those up early in Japan, those staying up late in Europe or those enjoying the sun in North America – watched on to see what happened next. Kaihori could only stumble back towards her own goal, losing her footing as the reality of the situation unfolded.
Managing only to get a grasping hand to the ball as she fell to the ground, Lloyd’s shot found the back of the net. The midfielder had just engraved herself in history. A hat-trick, in a World Cup final, completed in a mere 13 minutes. Having already helped herself to two goals, Lloyd had stunned the world with a strike that would be played over thousands, millions of times in the coming days and weeks.
On top of Holiday’s volley, the USA led 4-0, a situation that took some time to sink in as the majority were focused on what had become an individual’s story, rather than a team on the verge of glory. What happened in the remaining 74 minutes has largely been consigned to the backs of people’s’ minds. The dusty, spider-ridden recesses of the bookshelf that nobody bothers to touch. Few remember Yuki Nagasato’s consolation before the half-hour mark. Few remember Tobin Heath adding a fifth and few remember Julie Johnston’s own goal which eventually meant the game ended 5-2 in the USA’s favour.
It was as if the rest was a dream, waking up only to see Jill Ellis running onto the pitch, arms in the air when the final whistle went. What people remember is the day Carli Lloyd became a heroine. The superstar of US football had achieved enough in her career already to ensure she would go down as a legend, with or without the events of 6 July 2015, but it instilled her in the mind of the masses for all-time. Quite simply, it was the day Carli Lloyd went down in history.
By Rich Laverty @RichJLaverty
Edited by Will Sharp @shillwarp