Soccer-crazy Germany on Monday was euphoric after the women's national team became world champions for the first time following a 2-1 victory over Sweden by “golden goal” on Sunday.
The ecstatic members of Germany's world champion soccer team.
Five-time European Championship winners and 1995 World Cup runners-up, the German women's soccer team finally took home the world championship trophy on Sunday after defeating a feisty Swedish squad in extra time.
Playing in front of a 26,000-strong crowd that favored the Swedes in Carson, California, the two teams provided a suspense-packed game with a combination of technical skill, attacking tactics and agile ball handling.
From the 25th minute Germany's star forward Birgit Prinz, the tournament’s leading scorer and most valuable player, pounded the Swedish goalie with rushes, all which only narrowly missed their destination.
The Scandinavians responded by increasing their counterattacks, led by Victoria Svensson. In the 41st minute that pressure paid off, as Hanna Ljungberg drove the ball into Germany’s net, putting Sweden in the lead.
Not to be cowed down, the determined Germans fought back with midfielder Maren Meinert scoring the equalizer in the 46th minute. The two teams were then tied throughout the rest of the game.
"Golden goal" clinches the trophy
The winning goal came from one of the unlikeliest players in the German team -- 23-year-old Nia Kuenzer from Frankfurt, who entered in the 88th minute Sunday, expecting to provide some more power with her rested form.
Germany's Nia Kunzer, bottom right, is mobbed by teammates after scoring the golden goal.
Kuenzer, better known as a television commentator than a player, had scored only once in 32 previous appearances with Germany’s national team – during the 2001 European championships, when Germany beat Sweden, 1-0 also with a "golden goal."
On Sunday, the 5 feet 6 inches tall Kuenzer once again displayed her winning form as she twisted her body 12 yards from the goal and flicked a header past the outstretched arm of Swedish goalkeeper, Caroline Joensson, to bring home the title.
"Proud day for German soccer"
The Germans went unbeaten in the tournament, winning all five of their matches and even beat defending champions the United States 3-0 in the semi-finals. Along with the World Cup title, Germany has now also risen to Number One in the women's soccer world rankings.
Germany's soccer coach Tina Theune-Meyer
Tina Theune-Meyer (photo), coach of the best team of the tournament and the first woman to lead a team to a World Cup win, was ecstatic. "It’s pure happiness," she said after the match on Sunday. "My thanks to the team who managed to make up for trailing behind earlier."
Gerhard Mayer-Vorfelder, president of Germany’s soccer association, lauded the squad’s performance. "I’m incredibly happy. It’s a proud day for German soccer."
FIFA President Joseph Blatter summed up the praise being showered on the team from all sides. "The German team plays the best soccer. So logically, they deserve the World Cup title."
Heroes again for Germany
Back home, a soccer-crazy nation was still reveling in the victory that the men's team failed to bring home when they lost to Brazil in the World Cup finals last year.
German mass-selling daily Bild screamed "We once again have heroes!", including the women's soccer champs on its front page along with Michael Schumacher, who won his record sixth Formula One championship on Sunday.
Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has personally invited the victorious women for a chat at his office in Berlin and apologized he couldn’t take time off from his hectic reform debate to fly to California personally and watch them in action.
Sparking interest in women's soccer
Supporters of women's soccer hope the World Cup win will also provide a boost to the game back home. Interest in the women’s national team lags far behind enthusiasm in the men’s national squad, which has won three World Cup titles.
Jana Wiske, a report for Kicker, a popular soccer magazine told The New York Times, "In Germany, soccer is a man’s game." She added that German women face a problem of cultural sexism from a public that does not consider the players sufficiently feminine.
Coach Theune-Meyer thinks Sunday’s win might change that. "I hope many young girls watched the finals at home and begin to play soccer."