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Women's World Cup: Germany find their shooting boots

June 17, 2019

Germany have qualified for the knockout stages after coming through Group B unbeaten and without conceding a single goal. Monday's 4-0 win over South Africa was welcome but routine. Now there are bigger tests to come.

FIFA Frauen-WM 2019 | Deutschland vs. Südafrika | 4. TOR Deutschland
Image: Reuters/J.P. Pelissier

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg was clear how Germany were going to approach their final group-stage game at the Women's World Cup in France. 

"We're not going to mess about with the tactics and play for a draw," she said - and the head coach's confidence proved the right approach as South Africa were comfortably beaten by a Germany team who finally flexed their muscles.

A week ago in Rennes, Germany were initially surprised by China's unexpectedly robust approach before Giulia Gwinn's strike saved the day. Then, in Valenciennes, Sara Däbritz bundled home the winner after a testing encounter against an emerging Spain team.

Both were games which required the young German players to learn and adapt. Voss-Tecklenburg's deft tactical hand from the touchline was also needed. Germany's meeting with tournament debutants South Africa though, was very different.

FIFA Frauen-WM 2019 | Deutschland vs. Südafrika | Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, Bundestrainerin
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg enjoyed a more relaxed afternoon in Montpellier.Image: Reuters/J.P. Pelissier

Coming into the game, no African team had ever scored a goal against Germany at a Women's World Cup. Not Nigeria, who lost 4-0 in 1991 and 1-0 in 2011. Not Ivory Coast, who shipped ten in one game in 2015. And the Banyana Banyana (The Girls) were not about to change that statistic.

As soon as Melanie Leupolz had taken advantage of unforgivably slack marking to head her team into the lead inside the opening quarter of an hour, it was merely a question of how many Germany would put past the nervous-looking Andile Dlamini, who promptly gifted Däbritz her second goal of the tournament after spilling Verena Schweers' cross.

"It will be a bit wild," Schweers had predicted pre-match. "South Africa are aggressive opponents with very quick players who will challenge us." The South Africans were indeed aggressive, but their efforts to win back the ball were not rewarded with chances in attack.

Instead, Germany were free to rack up almost twice as many passes than their opponents as they sought more goals. Team top-scorer Alexandra Popp hadn't managed to add to her tally of 47 international goals in the opening two games and somehow contrived to put the ball over a gaping goal from close range in the first half. Just before halftime though, she outjumped her marker to put Germany 3-0 and the game to bed.

FIFA Frauen-WM 2019 | Deutschland vs. Südafrika | 3. TOR Deutschland
Captain Alexandra Popp scores her first goal of the tournament - and Germany's third against South AfricaImage: Reuters/E. Gaillard

"It was important that we let the ball do the work today," Popp told broadcaster ARD afterwards. "But we've also shown now that we can play a bit of football, too. That's a good sign ahead of the knockout rounds."

As group winners, Popp and co cannot meet the United States or England until the final, but there will certainly be tougher propositions than South Africa waiting for them en route to any potential showdown in Lyon on July 7. With that in mind, the chance for Germany to shake off the cobwebs, express themselves and rack up the goals after two trying openers and before the knockouts came at a seemingly perfect time.

Germany's dominance continued after the break, but there was even an opportunity for Almuth Schult to boost her confidence. The Wolfsburg goalkeeper literally grabbed that chance with both hands, standing up well and palming away Thembi Kgatlana's effort in a one-on-one situation. Schult's South African counterpart Dlamini also deserved praise for a much-improved second period in which she kept the score down with a series of impressive saves.

There will be bigger tests to come for Germany, ones where a more meticulous tactical approach and greater on-field maturity will be necessary. Traits which Voss-Tecklenburg's team should ideally have learned from their opening two games.

Statistically speaking though, this team is right where it wants to be at exactly the right time.