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Germany Hoists Cup With Last Call

October 13, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

Long after she had left the field Sunday, the fire burned in Victoria Svensson's eyes.

The Swedish striker was angry, so much so that the silver ball award she had been presented as the second-best player in the Women's World Cup remained on the ground at her feet, all but ignored.

Eight minutes into sudden-death overtime in the championship final between Germany and Sweden at the Home Depot Center at Carson, Svensson was called for a foul on German defender Kerstin Stegemann.

Renate Lingor took the free kick, curled the ball onto the head of teammate Nia Kuenzer and the Frankfurt player, only 5 feet 5, leaped into the air, twisted her head sharply and sent a header crashing into the back of the Swedish net.

The goal gave Germany a 2-1 victory, and it served as the exclamation point to an absorbing, well-played and incident-filled match that held the attention of the 26,137 fans right until the end.

But it might have been a bad call.

In a tournament beset throughout by questionable officiating -- despite claims to the contrary by Joseph "Sepp" Blatter, FIFA's president -- a controversial decision by referee Floarea Cristina Ionescu of Romania proved decisive.

"The fourth referee [Canada's Sonia Denoncourt] told me when I got the prize [the silver ball award] that it wasn't a free kick," Svensson said. "But that's football, she said, and she can't do anything [about the call].

"It's sad that the refereeing is going to destroy the game.

"I think everyone saw that I took the ball fairly [from Stegemann] and [that] it was her hanging on to me after the situation."

Sweden Coach Marika Domanski Lyfors confronted referee Ionescu after the match.

"I only told her that I thought it wasn't a free kick," Lyfors said. "I didn't say anything else that was rude or something. But I was real angry, of course.

"I don't know how she could make it a free kick. But anyhow, [what's] done is done, the result is as it is. But I'm very sad because of the girls, of course, they have been fighting so much to reach the gold medal, and then the final result is on a free kick that isn't a free kick."

German forward Maren Meinert shrugged off the importance of Ionescu's call, pointing out that Germany, outplayed in the first 45 minutes, had dominated the second half and the brief overtime.

"It's unlucky for them, but I don't think that was the decision [that determined] the game," she said. "We had enough fouls [called against Germany] and I think we should [have been awarded] a penalty in the first half, but nobody's talking about that."

With its victory, Germany, which lost in the final in 1995, became the first country to win both the men's World Cup and the Women's World Cup.

There were long stretches, however, when it seemed that Sweden, which finished third in 1991 in its previous best performance, might prevail.

The Swedes took the lead in the 41st minute when Hanna Ljungberg collected a pass from Anna Sjoestroem and fired a shot past German goalkeeper Silke Rottenberg, the hero of Germany's semifinal victory over the United States.

Germany did not take long to reply. Roughly 40 seconds into the second half, striker Birgit Prinz, winner of the golden ball as the tournament's top player and also of the golden boot as its top goal scorer, sent a diagonal pass to Meinert.

Meinert, momentarily free of any defensive shadow, hit a right-foot shot that caught Swedish goalkeeper Caroline Joensson in two minds -- not knowing whether to guard the near post or move to her right to stop the shot. In the end she did neither and Meinert's shot beat her.

It was the playmaker's fourth goal of the 16-nation tournament and helped earn her both the bronze ball as the third-best player of the World Cup and the silver boot as its second-leading goal scorer. Both she and team captain Bettina Wiegmann retired after the game.

Meinert's goal set the stage for Kuenzer's game-winner.

Said Svensson: "I think we were worth the gold medal. But they won and there's nothing we can do now."

At least not until Athens in 2004.

"We're going to take the gold medal at the Olympics," Svensson said.

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