Razor-sharp

USA players celebrating a Carin Jennings (12) goal in the group match against Sweden. © FIFA Museum
USA players celebrating a Carin Jennings (12) goal in the group match against Sweden. © FIFA Museum

There has never been a forward line quite like it in the history of the women’s game. Three women dominated the goalscoring charts at the first World Cup and collectively they were known as the “Triple-Edged Sword”…

The first hint that the American team could be on the verge of something special came in April 1991 at a qualifying tournament in Port-au-Prince in Haiti to determine the Concacaf entrant for the first Women’s World Cup in China. The US team stormed through their matches, winning all five and scoring 49 goals without reply. Three strikers had a field day. Michelle Akers scored 11, captain April Heinrichs eight and Carin Jennings five.

The “Triple-Edged Sword” was born, although the name would be coined later, as in six months’ time, they would be scything their way through their opponents’ defences at the World Cup.

Three years earlier, much had been expected of the USA at the International Women’s Football Tournament, a trial run for the World Cup, also held in Guangzhou in Southern China. There, the Americans got no further than the quarter-finals. Heinrichs had pulled out before the tournament, while Akers only played the first two games before suffering a head injury. The Americans lost the quarter-final 1-0 to fierce rivals Norway, and no-one was quite sure what to expect of them at the World Cup itself three years later.

The three individual trophy winners at the handover ceremony right after the final. From left to right: Linda Medalen (Bronze Ball - 3rd best player), Michelle Akers (Golden shoe - top scorer - and Silver Ball - 2nd best player) & Carin Jennings (Golden B
The three individual trophy winners at the handover ceremony right after the final. From left to right: Linda Medalen (Bronze Ball - 3rd best player), Michelle Akers (Golden shoe - top scorer - and Silver Ball - 2nd best player) & Carin Jennings (Golden Ball - best player). © FIFA Museum (click to enlarge)

In November 1991, when the first World Cup got underway, the USA quickly laid down their marker. “We were naïve, but we were frigging spectacular,” USA coach Anson Dorrance was quoted as saying after their opening game against Sweden. Having led 3-0 with two goals by Jennings and another from 19-year-old Mia Hamm, the USA went for more and ended up conceding twice. Had the game been played over 90 minutes, Dorrance believes they may have lost.

Over the next five games, the scoring didn’t let up. When one part of the Triple-Edged Sword was less blunt than usual, another would be razor-sharp, although in the second match, a 5-0 victory over Brazil, all three got on the scoresheet with Heinrichs matching the brace of Jennings in the first match. In the third group game, it was the turn of Akers to score twice in the 3-0 win over Japan, but she kicked up a gear in the quarter-final scoring five against Chinese Taipei, a total yet to be beaten in either the women’s or the men’s World Cup.

In the semi-final, it was the turn of Jennings and Heinrichs, the former giving one of the standout displays in World Cup history. Her first-half hat trick left the newly unified German team reeling, and although they fought back, two goals in the second half by Heinrichs sealed a 5-2 win. The USA were in the World Cup Final.

USA captain, April Heinrichs, lifting the Women's World Cup trophy, after the final between Norway and USA. © FIFA Museum
USA captain, April Heinrichs, lifting the Women's World Cup trophy, after the final between Norway and USA. © FIFA Museum (click to enlarge)

En route to the Final, the USA had scored 23 goals. Of those, 18 had been scored by their attacking trio. In the Final, Akers made it 20 out of the 25 scored. Her winning goal in the 2-1 victory over Norway came just two minutes from the end to cap an extraordinary tournament for her and her fellow strikers. The Chinese media were quick to dub them the Triple-Edged Sword and the moniker stuck. And it has stood the test of time.

“April Heinrichs is one of the most competitive human beings I have ever met, on and off the field,” Jennings later said. “Michelle Akers is someone who puts her heart and soul into everything she did. How lucky and honoured was I to be playing on the same line as them.” But it was Jennings who walked away with the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament, while the ten goals scored by Michelle Akers saw her claim the Golden Boot. As for Heinrichs, she had the honour of being the first woman to lift the Women’s World Cup Trophy.

 

» Discover the fascinating story of the historic milestone for women's football: China 1991 - The first FIFA Women's World Cup

 

» Learn more about the Laws of the Game and women’s football and why many were not happy with one aspect at the 1991 FIFA Women's World Cup.

 

» Take a look at the objects in and illustration above the showcase at the FIFA Museum dedicated to the historic tournament.