Germany's coronation as UEFA Women's EURO champions on Sunday marked the culmination of 14 days of football crammed full of surprises, new records and a whole range of emotions. Over 200,000 fans flocked to see the continent's 12 best sides up close in the seven host stadiums, while as many again enjoyed the games from the designated Fan Zones. As defending title-holders, Germany were among the favourites going into the tournament, alongside hosts Sweden and France, fourth-placed finishers at both the FIFA Women's World Cup Germany 2011™ and the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament.
Having previously experienced such success as USA coach, much was expected of Pia Sundhage's Sweden side, despite the tactician only taking the reins of her homeland's ensemble in December 2012. After opening their campaign with a disappointing group stage draw against Denmark, the Tre Kroner improved with each outing and headed into the quarter-finals as group winners. A 5-0 rout of Finland, the biggest win of the tournament, set Sweden on course, paving the way for a subsequent victory over Italy. The Italians reached the knockout stages as group runners-up, leaving Finland packing their bags for home.
Germany likewise got off to a sluggish start in Group B, with many onlookers unconvinced by their early displays, particularly the goalless draw against the Netherlands in their opening fixture. While Iceland, placed numerous rungs further down the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women's World Ranking, were dispatched with ease, Silvia Neid's charges suffered their first European championship defeat in 28 games against eventual final opponents Norway. With Germany's aura of invincibility gone, the side was widely written off, especially after Neid was forced to replace six first-team regulars.
France had no trouble getting out of the blocks in Group C, quickly demonstrating their title aspirations with comfortable victories over Russia, Spain and England, allowing them to cruise into the last eight as table-toppers. England fell some way short of their own expectations, with the Three Lionesses eliminated after chalking up just a solitary point. Spain took second spot, leaving Russia and Denmark vying for the last remaining quarter-final berth, which the Danes eventually secured after the drawing of lots.
In the knockout stages the increasingly competitive nature of women’s football became all the more apparent. Denmark caused the biggest upset of the competition, sending a much-fancied French side home after a penalty shootout victory. The words of Danish international Johanna Rasmussen rang particularly true, having told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview prior to EURO 2013: “There are no easy games anymore. At the tournament right now it feels like anybody can win it. If we can get out of the group there’s a good chance we can take another step.” However, Denmark’s progress was cut short in the last four as they lost out on penalties to Norway, who had overcome Spain in the previous round.
Angerer to the rescue
Following a 4-0 quarter-final victory over Iceland, Sweden were the clear favourites going into their semi-final against Germany, who only narrowly edged past Italy. The teams put on a gripping display in a sold-out Gamla Ullevi stadium in Gothenburg, with Dzsenifer Marozsan’s strike enough to end the hosts’ dreams of a final on home soil.
The goal set up a fourth European title-decider between Germany and Norway. As a fascinating subplot, it also offered the former the chance to exact revenge for their earlier loss, while providing the Scandinavians with the opportunity to take the crown after defeats in their three previous final showings. However, Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer had other ideas, keeping her side in the game with two penalty saves, while Anja Mittag netted the decisive goal with one of her first touches of the ball after coming on as a half-time substitute. As preparations go for the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015 qualifiers in September, Germany could not have asked for a more rigorous test.
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