Monday, October 01, 2007

Women's World Cup Final

Germany 2-0 Brazil

The final match featured the two countries that have undoubtedly been the best teams over the course of the tournament -- albeit with very different styles of play. All the cliches about the men's teams -- Germany strong, well organized, good in the air and clinical in front of goal; Brazil full of flair but weak at the back, and not afraid of a bit of simulation -- were equally applicable here. And in fact this was a replay of the men's World Cup final from 2002, even ending with an identical scoreline -- although it was 2-0 in favour of Germany this time around.

Brazil's defensive shakiness was apparent from the outset, with Kerstin Garefrekes shooting into the side netting, but nevertheless it was the Brazilians who had the better of the early chances and nearly scored from a free kick by Daniela in the 7th minute. Daniela also hammered a volley off the post in the 23rd minute -- she had a number of good chances throughout the game, but just couldn't seem to score. Germany also wasted a few chances and were having problems coping with the Brazilians' pace at the back, but they held on well and it was all scoreless going into halftime.

Germany came out stronger in the second half, and in the 51st minute, captain Birgit Prinz broke the deadlock. The ball was fed forward to Sandra Smisek -- who'd spurned a great opportunity to score in the first half -- and she checked back and laid it off to Prinz, who beat Andreia from 10 yards out. Brazil looked for an equalizer immediately, with a breakaway by Marta, but she was denied by a last-ditch tackle in the box. Germany responded by almost doubling their lead from a corner kick, as Annike Krahn's header flashed just wide of the net.

Then, in the 62nd minute, the moment that could have changed the match: Another break forward by Brazil, this time by Cristiane, and again the player was taken down in the box. But this time the referee rightly awarded a penalty against Linda Bresonik, which Marta stepped up to take. It wasn't well taken, though -- fairly central, and at the right height for the keeper -- and was easily blocked by Nadine Angerer, who had an excellent game in goal for Germany. A few minutes later, she followed up her penalty save by diving to push a free kick onto the post and preserve her record streak without conceding a goal.

Brazil continued to throw players forward, with Germany content to fend them off and look to attack on the break. It must have been a long, nervous second half for the Germans, though, as their second goal didn't come until the 85th minute, when substitute Fatmire Bajramaj won a corner that was headed in powerfully by Simone Laudehr to guarantee her team the victory. It made Germany the first team to win back-to-back Women's World Cups. And although there were good performances all over the pitch, from players on both sides, it ultimately came down to the two stars: Birgit Prinz, who delievered when it counted, and Marta, who didn't.

After the game, Marta was awarded both the Golden Ball and the Golden BootShoe. (I wonder if they're still voting on that before the final is over.) Birgit Prinz had to settle for the Silver Shoe -- and of course the World Cup itself, which is not a bad consolation prize.

The USA recovered a bit of dignity in the bronze medal match, beating Norway 4-1 to claim third place, with a brace from Abby Wambach. Hope Solo? Not even on the bench. Ouch. That's going to be a long, cold plane ride home.

And just to throw my two cents in: Yes, her post-game interview probably wasn't the smartest thing she could have done. If she'd kept her mouth shut, she'd be PR gold right now. But I can't fault her too much for not showing loyalty to her team, when it doesn't seem that they'd shown her much loyalty either with the original decision to bench her. (And if anything, she was criticizing the coaching decisions, not her teammates themselves.) But it seems to me that they're using her to deflect attention from the fact that the rest of the team didn't play well, and I think the way they've made her into a scaepgoat for their own failure is really shabby.

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