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Germany Has Winning Quality

Sweden will have its work cut out in the World Cup final when it faces the team that dismantled the U.S.

October 07, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Unless Sweden's Marika Domanski Lyfors can conjure up a little magic, Germany's Tina Theune-Meyer will be winging her way home next week with the Women's World Cup trophy safely stowed in her carry-on luggage.

Germany, to put it succinctly, simply has the look of a champion.

The way it absorbed everything the United States could throw at it in the semifinals in Portland, Ore., on Sunday afternoon, and still emerged a 3-0 winner, indicates that Germany's confidence is sky-high.

So high, in fact, that Birgit, Maren, Kerstin and Silke stand an excellent chance of replacing Mia, Brandi, Joy and Julie as the new heroes of young female soccer players worldwide.

April Heinrichs, the U.S. coach, said she doesn't necessarily believe that would be a bad thing.

One of the first things she did after the initial shock of the defeat had worn off was to walk over to Theune-Meyer, Germany's coach, and tell her that she hoped the Germans would prevail in Sunday's 10 a.m. championship match at the Home Depot Center in Carson.

"I said to her, 'Go and win it,' " Heinrichs said. "That is certainly one of the best teams I've seen in a long time."

Theune-Meyer talked about Germany's "discipline" and the fact that, for the most part, it avoided committing potentially costly fouls that would have given the U.S. free kicks on which the Americans are so dangerous.

But it is more than simply a disciplined team that the Swedes will try to overcome Sunday. It is a team with tremendous players in key positions.

Former Carolina Courage striker Birgit Prinz, for instance, increased her tournament-high goal count to seven with Germany's third goal against the U.S. Her powerful running and precise finishing will test the Swedes all game long.

Then there is Maren Meinert, the most valuable player in the Women's United Soccer Assn. this season while starring for the Boston Breakers. She controlled Sunday's semifinal like an experienced puppeteer, forever pulling the strings that set the German offense in motion.

Kerstin Garefrekes, meanwhile, provides Germany with an aerial threat. Her 15th-minute goal put her team ahead and she was constantly a menace, flicking the ball this way and that when she got near or into the U.S. penalty area.

The Americans knew in advance that those three players would be difficult to contain, and still the trio prevailed.

"That's the way the game was meant to be played," Heinrichs said afterward, "and the way it should be played. Positive soccer."

Added U.S. forward Tiffeny Milbrett: "They're just soccer machines."

And not only on offense, as Sweden will discover.

Germany's defense, largely untested in the first four games, proved to be rock-solid. Goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg played the game of her life, while right back Kerstin Stegemann was involved in key plays everywhere.

In fact, all 11 starters contributed to Germany's victory, a point underlined by Theune-Meyer, who made no substitutions.

"I had the feeling that the whole team was one team," she said, "so I didn't change anything."

But beyond discipline, skill and exceptional teamwork, Germany also boasted the confidence that had been lacking in earlier games against the Americans.

"We knew that they were not better than we were," Prinz said. "They are a physical team, but we knew we could be as physical as they are."

So what can Sweden offer against such a foe? History, for one thing.

The Swedes beat the Germans, 4-0, in the third-place game at the inaugural Women's World Championship in China in 1991, and again, 3-2, in the first round of the 1995 tournament, which was played in Sweden.

They also met in the final of the European Championship in 2001, with Germany winning in overtime, 1-0.

The teams have met 11 times, Germany having won six games, Sweden five. The Germans has a 19-18 edge in goals.

"I think the matches against Germany are very good football matches," said Lyfors, Sweden's coach. "We know that they are physically strong, so we will have to play at our very best to beat them."

Sweden will depend in attack on the trio of Hanna Ljungberg, Victoria Svensson and Malin Mostrom, the same threesome that tore apart Canada's title hopes in a 2-1 semifinal victory on Sunday.

That result left Ljungberg sounding just as confident as Prinz.

"Germany looks very strong, but I'm looking forward to meeting them and beating them." she said. "I know we can do it. We have everything to win."

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