Germany and U.S. will clash in matchup of world's best women's teams

On paper, Tuesday's World Cup showdown between Germany and the U.S. is a classic matchup between the two best teams in the world — one an unstoppable force, the other an immovable object.

Consider their histories:

— They are the only two countries to win multiple Women's World Cup titles.

— Germany has been the best offensive team in this tournament, scoring 20 goals, while the U.S. and goalkeeper Hope Solo have been the best defensively, allowing just one score.

— And in the 12 years that FIFA has been rating the top women's teams, Germany and the U.S. are the only countries to ever rank No. 1.

It's a dream final. Only it's taking place in the semifinals.

That's of little matter now though. The teams had to meet eventually since neither could truly claim to be the world's champion without vanquishing the other.

"Of course it's very exciting, the best and second-best teams playing against each other," German Coach Silvia Neid said. "I know the United States would like to be No. 1, but we are still No. 1 and we will try to show [Tuesday] it's our position to keep."

Countered U.S. defender Meghan Klingenberg: "To win the World Cup you have to beat the best in the world. So we're excited about the next game."

But rather than being a case of two titans colliding this could be more like two ships passing in the night.

The U.S. was the team of the 1990s, when it won two of the first three Women's World Cups.

Germany, meanwhile, has been the team of the new century, winning two of the last three tournaments. It failed only in 2011, when it washed out in the quarterfinals.

Germany has eclipsed the U.S. off the field as well. Its national soccer program has twice as many full-time employees as the U.S. and the domestic Bundesliga — home to 19 of the 23 players on the World Cup roster — is larger and more established than the National Women's Soccer League, which is partly underwritten by U.S. Soccer.

"They do an excellent job. Top to bottom they're in constant communication with each other with regards to development and expectations," Mia Hamm, star of the two U.S. World Cup-winning teams, said of Germany. "The continuity from each age group is really good and almost makes for a seamless transition. It's not like they're playing a completely different system."

It's no surprise, then, that Germany finds itself on the brink of history. Not only would a win over the U.S. move it a big step closer to becoming the first three-time winner of a Women's World Cup, it would also keep alive hope of becoming the first country to own the men's and women's World Cup trophies at the same time.

Germany won the men's tournament last summer in Brazil.

"It would be a dream for us to win the title, as well as a historic milestone for German football," said former star sweeper Doris Fitschen, now manager of the German women's team.

First, however, it has to get past the U.S., which has been like Kryptonite to Germany's superwomen.

Germany has beaten the U.S. just four times in 29 tries, the most recent coming in 2003, the last time they met in a World Cup semifinal. That's a big reason why the U.S. has been the top-ranked team in the world for most of the last seven years.

That's a position Germany has held since December though — and one, as Neid said, the U.S. wants back.

"This is why we're here. We want to beat the best team in the world," said U.S. defender Ali Krieger, who has played the majority of her professional career in Germany. "And to win the trophy that's what you have to do.

"This is why we train our entire lives — and what we train our entire lives for. These are the moments. We can't wait."

On Tuesday they'll find out whether the wait was worth it.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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