Women of World Cup Unite!
The Germans celebrated by forming a chorus line and performing high kicks, not the kind you might see from them on the soccer field but the kind you would see from the Rockettes at the Radio City Music Hall. They sang that traditional German beer hall song, “Guantanamera.” Or at least a version of it.
In tribute to the prolific striker from the men’s national team, a German radio station a few years ago took the melody from the song and changed the words in the chorus to, “There’s only one Rudi Voeller.”
The German women Sunday changed the words again, this time to, “There’s only one Nia Kuenzer.”
Most people who have been following the Women’s World Cup probably didn’t know there was even one Nia Kuenzer.
Even in Germany, she was better known for her television commentary during the national team’s games than as a player. After rehabilitating from her third major knee surgery, all before her 23rd birthday last January, she joined the team for this tournament. But she had played in only three of the Germans’ five games before Sunday and for a total of only 64 minutes.
On a team with the World Cup’s two leading goal scorers, Birgit Prinz and Maren Meinert, who would be first and third in Golden Ball voting for most valuable player, the odds against Kuenzer scoring the golden goal in overtime would have been prohibitive.
How she scored was equally improbable. At 5 feet 5, she was the third-shortest player on the field. But on a free kick from 32 yards by midfielder Renate Lingor, Kuenzer leaped high into the air over 5-7 defender Kristin Bengtsson and headed the ball over the head of 5-9 goalkeeper Caroline Joensson into the net.
That was all it took. Germany 2, Sweden 1.
Asked later if she in her wildest dreams had ever envisioned scoring such an important goal, she who had scored twice in 33 international matches, Kuenzer said, “In my wildest dreams -- soccer?”
She laughed and confessed, “Every soccer player dreams of scoring the decisive goal in the World Cup. I won’t deny that.”
A larger-than-expected crowd of 26,137 was announced for the game at the Home Depot Center in Carson. Many of the fans probably bought tickets in advance, anticipating that the U.S. team would be in the final. Even so, they were in a good mood, going so far as to cheer the embattled FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, when he was introduced. He rarely receives a reception like that in soccer stadiums.
The largely pro-Swedish crowd might have been disappointed with the result, but it had to appreciate the play. Swedish Coach Marika Domanski Lyfors said fans told her afterward it was “one of the best games ever played,” putting it in a category with Germany’s 3-0 semifinal victory over the United States seven days before in Portland, Ore.
It was certainly the best of the three World Cup championship games played in the L.A. area in the last nine years. Brazil defeated Italy in the 1994 men’s final and the United States defeated China in the 1999 women’s final, both games at the Rose Bowl. Goals actually were scored in regulation of this game and it mercifully wasn’t decided by penalty kicks.
More significant was that this was the first time a female coach has won the Women’s World Cup. The three champions since the first tournament in 1991 were coached by men. Men also coached the two gold-medal women’s teams in the Summer Olympics since 1996.
A female coach was bound to win Sunday. Women coached both finalists. A woman, April Heinrichs, also coached the third-place U.S.
Sweden’s Lyfors did an outstanding job of regrouping her players after their timid first half in a 3-1 loss to the U.S. in the first game, but she will never be confused with Bob Knight. That is a good thing, though she might have been more forceful in objecting to the call that gave Germany its crucial free kick eight minutes into overtime.
Of her subsequent conversation with referee Floarea Cristina Ionescu of Romania, Lyfors said, “I only told her that I thought it wasn’t a free kick. I didn’t say anything else that was rude or something. But I was real angry, of course.”
The winning coach, Tina Theune-Meyer, said last week she turned to the profession because she couldn’t get a job as a physical education teacher.
She wasn’t selected to coach the national team because she was necessarily the best candidate available but because the German federation, practicing affirmative action, told her it wanted a woman coach for the women’s team.
But it turned out she was right for the job, even if she did downplay the issue. She also downplayed her decision to insert Kuenzer into the game in the 88th minute. That had more to do with the fact she needed a defensive midfielder to cope with Swedish playmaker Malin Mostroem, she said, than with a premonition that Kuenzer would score the winning goal.
Who would have thought before the World Cup that the star of the championship game would be Nia, not Mia?
Randy Harvey can be reached at email@example.com.