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Germany dominated Bulgaria to open their World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite the big win, the focus remains on making improvements headed into the summer's European Championships in England.
Germany opened their campaign to qualify for the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand on the right foot, steamrolling a spunky but ultimately outgunned Bulgaria.
Though the explosive display was impressive, this game was about much more than leaving Cottbus with three vital points towards qualifying – Germany have one eye on the World Cup, and another firmly set on preparing for next summer's postponed European Championships.
Though Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said she was "content" with her team's performance, she knows her side still needs some work, particularly ahead of games against tougher opponents.
"We need to improve our positioning in attack, our pressing, and how we react defensively," she said post-match. "We need to be a bit cleverer in individual moments and be calmer under pressure. We don't need to be so hectic all the time. That's something we're hoping to improve going forward."
Voss-Tecklenburg has used Germany's last handful of games, all friendlies, to experiment and bring new faces into the national team fold. Youngsters may have logged plenty of minutes, but the results weren't perfect.
Getting their World Cup qualifying campaign underway in Cottbus, Germany trotted out as experienced a lineup as possible in their first meaningful match since they wrapped up European qualifying late last year. Star midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán, making her first appearance since February after missing matches due to COVID-19 travel complications, put in a sterling performance which proved her absence exacerbated Germany's recent inconsistencies.
Sensing some of her teammates were overwhelmed by Bulgaria's surprisingly high press, Marozsán dropped back to shield the defense and kick start attacks from deep. This afforded a tremendous Sara Däbritz the opportunity to get forward, ripping the Bulgarian midfield to shreds with incisive passing. Lina Magull was also given free reign, displaying a cold opportunism in front of goal Germany sorely need, notching a brace before being substituted at halftime.
"You can't win a tournament with 11 players, you need a full roster," Voss-Tecklenburg had said ahead of kickoff. "Sure, we want to get our key players in a rhythm. Especially later in the season we'll have our clear formations down and we'll have seven or eight players that can start in every match," she said.
Even if her starting lineup won't be written in stone for every match, it's clear that the midfield trio of Marozsán, Däbritz and Magull are solid candidates for regular starts.
Others will still have to step up as the European Championships approach.
While striker Lea Schüller bagged two goals and still seems to be ahead of Laura Freigang in the race to deputize for the injured Alex Popp, her struggles to put away some clear chances in the second half had her coach bellowing: "Come on, grab a goal!" in exasperation from the sidelines.
"There's definitely room for improvement. I had plenty of chances and I could, maybe should, have scored a couple more goals," admitted Schüller herself. "I also think we had a couple final passes that didn't quite connect. Still, two goals are a decent foundation to build on."
Paradoxically, given Germany's glut of goals, the more glaring potential trouble brewing in the Germany squad may lie at the back. Despite the clean sheet, Germany's young defenders frequently made their inexperience apparent. 19-year-old Lena Oberdorf, one of the more seasoned members of the backline with 20 caps, was pulled off at halftime after errant passing frequently put the hosts under unwarranted pressure.
Kathrin Hendrich was Germany's most impressive defender, marauding up and down the right flank and assisting on two goals. Her colleagues will want to watch her tape and take notes when preparing for stiffer competition than an inexperienced Bulgarian side.
Despite Magull's brace, she still looked at her team's performance critically. "There's a lot we can improve. We definitely need to work on our precision, our speed of play and our transitional game. Still, we can't focus too much on this match, we will face tougher opponents in the future and know it will take more," she said.
The 1,500 fans who braved the rain and boisterously spurred Germany forward had little to criticize, given their loud standing ovation at the final whistle.
And though trying to find fault in a 7-0 victory may be picky, this match is as much about preparing for the Euros as it is about the result. Germany have plenty to celebrate, but there is still work to be done. Luckily for Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, they also have plenty of time.