Attacks Expected to Attract Attention
Brandi Chastain was fielding questions Saturday afternoon. The topic, inevitably, was soccer and specifically today’s Women’s World Cup championship match between Germany and Sweden.
Will it draw any sort of crowd to the Home Depot Center?
Chastain frowned at the question, behind which was the unspoken assumption that because the United States is not in the final, few will be interested.
“I hope it’s a packed house,” Chastain said. “It deserves to be a packed house. Those are two fine teams.
“People didn’t buy tickets only because they thought they’d see the U.S. They knew they’d see a competitive game for a championship. They [Germany and Sweden] are worthy of having a packed house.”
Standing a few feet away, Mia Hamm turned her thoughts to the game itself and to the sort of spectacle it might present.
“Goalkeeping is going to be extremely important,” she said.
That much is clear. Germany has scored 23 goals in its five matches leading to the final, including six against Argentina and seven against Russia. The reigning European champions have the tournament’s top goal scorer, Birgit Prinz.
Prinz, who has seven goals, is more than ably supported by Kerstin Garefrekes, who has four, Maren Meinert, with three, and by Martina Mueller, Bettina Wiegmann and Sandra Minnert, who have two each.
Sweden, meanwhile, comes into the game with a “devil’s triangle” of forwards in Victoria Svensson, Hanna Ljungberg and Malin Mostroem. All three have different strengths, but the common thread that links them is the desire to be constantly on the attack.
Svensson, who has three goals, and Ljungberg and Mostroem, who have two each, might not have the sort of numbers boasted by Prinz, but that does not make them any less dangerous.
“The Swedish front-runners get behind you,” Hamm said. “They hold the ball, and they play so well off each other.
“At the same time, you have Birgit and Maren on the other side. It’ll be a tough match.”
Of the neutral observers, Canada Coach Even Pellerud is perhaps best-qualified to comment on the final. He was Norway’s coach when it defeated Germany, 2-0, at Stockholm in 1995’s rain-drenched final.
“Germany has so far been a little bit more impressive than Sweden,” he said Saturday. “Both teams are very strong. Both teams are very experienced. Both teams are very, very confident at the moment. I think it will be a fabulous game.
“Sweden’s intensity up front when they attack is very high. The German defense has some weaknesses, so it’s possible it could go [either] way.”
The United States beat Sweden, 3-1, in its opening game and lost, 3-0, to Germany in the semifinals. Despite those results, Coach April Heinrichs also believes that either team could become the world champion.
“We don’t know who is going to win,” she said. “Both teams have great striking personalities. In fact, the personalities that you gravitate to most are Svensson and Ljungberg and Malin Andersson and Mostroem for Sweden, and Wiegmann and Meinert and Prinz for Germany. These are attacking personalities.
“I think that’s the most exciting aspect of this World Cup, that attacking play is prevailing.”
Heinrichs has a novel theory on the title match.
If the final had been played two or three days after last Sunday’s semifinals, she said, she believes Sweden would have won. But because a week has elapsed, she now believes Germany has the upper hand.
The Germans, who attack in numbers out of the back and midfield, expend a lot of energy in doing so and might have suffered with a quick turnaround.
“Germany has a commitment to make runs forward,” Heinrichs said. “They play a high-energy game, and I just think that six days’ rest re-energizes Germany, because it’s harder to play their style with just [a few] days’ rest.”
If it wins today, Germany would become the first country to win the World Cup (1954, 1974 and 1990) and the Women’s World Cup.
A victory for Sweden, on the other hand, would give it its first world championship and bragging rights over Scandinavian neighbor and former champion Norway.
The incentive is there for both teams. The goals will surely follow.
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GERMANY vs SWEDEN
How they got here: Germany defeated Canada, 4-1, Japan, 3-0, and Argentina, 6-1, in the first round, then thrashed Russia, 7-1, in the quarterfinals and shut out the United States, 3-0, in the semifinals. Sweden lost to the U.S., 3-1, then beat North Korea, 1-0, and Nigeria, 3-0, in the first round, after which it edged Brazil, 2-1, in the quarterfinals and came from behind to deny Canada, 2-1, in the semifinals.
Players to watch: For Germany, Birgit Prinz is the competition’s leading scorer with seven goals, and playmaker Maren Meinert could become the “golden ball” winner as the tournament’s’ best player. Sweden counts on the electric trio of Victoria Svensson, also an MVP candidate, Hanna Ljungberg and the irrepressible Malin Mostroem.
Previous appearances: Germany lost in the final, 2-0 to Norway, in 1995. This is Sweden’s first appearance in a final.
Quick look: Germany comes in as the slightest of favorites, if only because of the number of goals it is scoring and that it already has beaten the World Cup’s third- and fourth-place finishers (the U.S. and Canada). Sweden has recorded World Cup victories over Germany to win third place in 1991 and in the first round in 1995, however, and the Swedes took the Germans to overtime in the 2001 European Women’s Championship before falling, 1-0, in Germany.
--Grahame L. Jones