The UEFA Women's European Championship 2013 comes to a climax on Sunday with the final between Germany and Norway, one of the classic fixtures in the international women's game. The teams have already met at this stage three times in the past, with the Scandinavians coming off second best on each occasion.
The Germans won the previous meetings in 1989, 1991 and 2005, but the most recent clash came in the group stage of the current tournament, when Norway sensationally ended the Germans’ run of 28 undefeated games at the European finals. That result has added a real edge to an already spicy meeting between two giants of the game, with the final guaranteed to produce tension, drama and quality football, as both sides feel they have a score to settle.
Germany and Norway are hardly strangers on the international stage. The teams have crossed swords 35 times in the past, including meetings at the FIFA Women's World Cup™, the UEFA Women's European Championship and the Olympics. Silvia Neid’s team have their noses in front with 17 victories to 13 and five draws.
After a less than ideal build-up to this summer's tournament in Sweden, Norway were regarded as only an outside bet to make the final. Coach Even Pellerud’s team lost four warm-up matches on the bounce, to Switzerland (3-1), Sweden (2-1), France (1-0), and Russia (3-2). They also made a patchy start to the tournament itself, opening with a draw against Iceland and then edging a narrow victory over the Netherlands. However, the group stage ended on a triumphant note with the victory over Germany. Come the quarter-finals, and the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup winners had motored into form, brushing aside the challenge of Spain. The semi-final clash with Denmark was much tighter, the Norwegians finally booking their place in the final on penalties.
As always, holders Germany went into the European showdown as one of the hot favourites, but Neid's team, a much younger and inexperienced group than planned due to the loss of six regulars to injury, initially struggled with the weight of expectation. The Germans qualified for the last eight in second place after a draw, a win and a defeat in their group campaign. But just like the Norwegians, the team grew in strength the longer the tournament went on. Following a narrow victory over Italy in the last eight, Germany were underdogs for once in the semi-final against hosts Sweden, but produced their best performance so far, bristling with fighting spirit, a cast-iron will to win and the nose for goal of starlet Dzsenifer Marozsan. With the landmark victory under their belts, the Germans will now be full of confidence as they head for Solna.
64 - Seven-time European champions Germany were hungry for goals during Euro 2013 qualifying. Neid's team finished on 64 goals from their ten qualifiers, 17 ahead of rivals Spain, with 17-goal Celia Okoyino da Mbabi finishing as top scorer.
The player to watch
At the end of a successful 2010 season with Stabaek, Solveig Gulbrandsen decided enough was enough and announced her retirement from the game after an impressive domestic and international career. However, three years later, the mother of two has emerged from retirement to steer her team to the final of the European Championship, emphatically demonstrating she still has everything it takes to perform on the big stage. Gulbrandsen has two goals so far, and her vast experience could yet tip the scales the Scandinavians’ way.
"Our target was the semi-finals, and even that required a vivid imagination. But we’ve made it to the final and this is the big one. In fact, for me personally, it’s even bigger than winning the World Cup in 1995," Norway coach Even Pellerud