Finishing a sporting career at the top of your profession is the dream of most athletes and coaches. Germany's women's coach, Tina Theune-Meyer, has done so. But the question remains: What comes next?
The German women's soccer team partied at the elegant Marriott Hotel in Preston, England, into the wee hours of Monday morning. They had just taken home their third straight European Cup, which has become something of a habit for their coach, Tina Theune-Meyer.
Yet all good things must come to an end. This was Theune-Meyer's final game as head of a squad that is considered the best in Europe. The World Cup victory in 2003 even put the German women a notch above their male counterparts.
Despite all her successes, however, Theune-Meyer takes pains to credit the players with the achievement. And she notes that the playing field of European women's soccer is getting more and more level.
Germany's coach Tina Theune-Meyer, bottom centre, celebrates as her side win 3-1 over Norway in the final of the European Women's Soccer Championships
"I don't think we're so far ahead of the other teams in Europe," said the 51-year old after the 3-1 victory against Norway in Blackburn. "They all have players for the future. What makes us a winning team is that we have a tough-minded group who play hard and want to win everything."
Big shoes to fill
When the modest trainer took over the German women's national team in 1996, a huge legacy was already in place. Germany had won three of the four previous European championships. Their last loss in a European Cup match had been 1-3 at the hands of Denmark, in 1993.
Yet Theune-Meyer took the team to a new level. With her, they didn't lose a single match in a European Cup competition and in 2003 won the World Cup.
Germany's captain Birgit Prinz has made Theune-Meyer's tenure a lot easier with her effective striking capabilities
Before her final match as coach on Sunday, she had already announced that she would revel in her glory, one way or the other. Of course a win would make the party a lot easier.
"I want to celebrate properly one last time," she grinned. "With the obligatory cigar and everything."
Her veteran squad made it possible. In the first round in England, the "Golden Girls" led by Footballer of the Year Birgit Prinz, produced three shutouts. Not until the semifinal against Finland did Theune-Meyer's team let in a goal in a 4-1 victory.
"I'm proud of my team. They were the best in this tournament," she said.
Successor looking to youth
Assistant coach and former national player Silvia Neid now must feel some pressure to take Theune-Meyer's her place -- just like when Theune-Meyer left her assistant position and took the top role in 1996.
Six players in this year's championship squad have over 100 caps. Slowly but surely they will be hanging up their boots. Nevertheless, the 41-year-old Neid is looking forward to the challenge. "We have good prospects. Lots of good young players are moving up," she said.
The last German national team to win a soccer World Cup. The 2003 women's squad
Theune-Meyer already laid the foundation at the Euro 2005 in England. Then, 20-year-old Anja Mittag and 22-year-old Sarah Günther got playing time in the highly-touted tournament. Those beyond the 30-year mark, like Silke Rottenberg (33), Steffi Jones (32) and Sandra Minnert (32) have said they will keep on playing for the national squad, but the competition is making in-roads.
Midfielder Renate Lingor isn't sure that the team "can play at this level for too many more years."
Theune-Meyer hopes that German youth programs will continue to churn out the talent.
"We have a very good structure. From the age of 15, players have very good coaches and it works like a conveyor belt."
While she says she doesn't know exactly what the future holds, Theune-Meyer certain that she will work in some capacity with the German Soccer Association (DFB).
"The new life will be good for me," the world's most successful women's coach said. "Whatever comes now is a dream."
Silvia Neid is hoping she can say the same thing ten years from now.