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Sports

German Girls Discover the Beautiful Game

The success of the Germany's women's soccer team internationally is rubbing off at home, with more girls playing the sport competitively. But while acceptance among their male peers is growing, respect is lacking.

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Moment of victory for the German women at the 2003 World Cup

German women started playing soccer professionally almost 40 years ago, and have since made their mark internationally, scooping the European Championship several times, winning Olympic bronze in Sydney and Athens, and taking the World Championship in 2003. Currently, the German women are in England playing for the European Championship, and have already reached the semi-final.

Their success is inspiring increasing numbers of German girls to take up the sport. At the local level, though, girls like 14-year-old Lisann still have to play on boys' teams. She only gets to compete on an all-girls team at the regional level, but says generally, the boys on her hometown team have been accepting of her.

"They think it's cool. In the beginning, they said 'oh, she's bad' but then they found out that girls can play soccer, too," Lisann said.

Triumphale Heimkehr

Bettina Wiegmann (r) and Nia Kuenze savor their triumphant return home

Bettina Wiegmann, a key player in the German national team that won the World Cup in 2003, currently coaches an under-15 regional squad. Like Lisann, she also started playing soccer on a boys' team.

"A lot has been achieved in women's football, which is a good thing for the girls," Wiegmann said. "We were the pioneers, we fought for the girls and now they have more opportunities."

The international success of the German national women's team means, in theory at least, that the up-and-coming German girls should have plenty of role models to look up to. But 14-year-old Lorie confesses to idolizing a player of the opposite sex -- none other than British star David Beckham.

"It's not just because of his looks," she says. "It's also because of how he plays -- his free kicks and crosses and so on."

Lorie is not unusual. According to Wiegmann, girls will continue to look up to male players as long as men's soccer predominates in the media.

David Beckham jubelt

Whether it's his looks or soccer prowess, David Beckham is still the role model for many German girls

"It's not going to be any different in the near future because men's soccer is there on television. The girls look at the tricks and try to copy them, and it's going to stay that way for the next couple of years," Wiegmann said.

Promising future

Despite this, women's football has a promising future in Germany, and is one of the country's fastest growing sports. In 1994, the German Football Federation registered around 600,000 female players on 4,000 teams. A decade on, the numbers have risen to 800,000 women playing on nearly 7,000 teams.

Women in the German soccer scene say that while today's girls are benefiting from increased acceptance of their participation in what used to be an exclusively male sport, there is still a lack of respect from men and boys about the way women play.

For Lorie, the boys on her team can count themselves lucky that they've had the experience of playing with a girl.

"I'm better than some of them, so they've been able to learn something from me."

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