German women's football added another glittering chapter
to an already impressive story last Saturday, as the nation of the
reigning world and European champions now also boasts the most
successful club in UEFA Women's Cup history. After two
high-quality matches brimful of excitement and tension to the end,
top German outfit Frankfurt beat Swedish counterparts Umea 4-3 on
aggregate to claim the continent's most prestigious club trophy
for the third time.
Frankfurt's victory was every bit as tight as the scoreline suggests. After Birgit Prinz and Co battled to a 1-1 draw in Sweden against a Umea side prompted and inspired by Brazilian mega-talent Marta, the Germans edged the home leg 3-2. Even then, the FIFA 2007 World Player of the Year so nearly snatched the trophy for her team with a last minute free kick which cannoned off the bar from 35 yards. Overall, the two-legged final conclusively demonstrated the virtual elimination of any gap in standards at the top of the women's game nowadays.
The clash between the two best-known and ultimately most professional clubs on the continent drew an astonishing 27,640 crowd to the Frankfurt World Cup Arena for the return, a new UEFA Women's Cup record. "I'm already looking forward to the Women's World Cup 2011 in Germany. It'll be a wonderful festival of football in a friendly atmosphere," a visibly moved Frankfurt coach Hans-Jurgen Tritschok commented after watching his side shade the continental honours.
A no less broad smile played across the face of Siegfried Dietrich, general manager of the star-studded Frankfurt ensemble and the man credited with a huge contribution to the breathtaking development of the elite women's game in Germany. "This is definitely one of the most significant moments in my career as a manager. It was a terrific game, but it was much more besides. Fifteen years ago, when we sometimes played in front of crowds as low as 500, we'd have been laughed out of court if we'd dared predict an attendance like the one we've had today."
First Lady of the UEFA Cup
Frankfurt's victory owed much to striker Conny Pohlers, a surprise omission from the German squad for the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007 in China PR. The 29-year-old scored the Germans' vital away goal in Umea and a match-winning brace in the return, effectively sealing Frankfurt's status as the high citadel of European women's football. The teams went into the final showdown with two previous UEFA Cup triumphs apiece.
"Winning this trophy with two different clubs is a real personal honour. I'm delighted with my goals, but scoring goals is my job as a striker. I've always been full of running. Every one of us went into this match bursting with passion and we do feel a little like world club champions," Pohlers declared. The player capped 63 times by her country won the 2005 UEFA Cup with Turbine Potsdam, but was a loser in the following year's final when Turbine fell to Frankfurt. Almost unbelievably, the classic penalty box poacher has now scored eight times in UEFA Women's Cup finals.
Marta v Prinz, part three
For the second time this season, the most downcast expression of the day belonged to Marta. Following defeat with her country in the FIFA Women's World Cup final in Shanghai some eight months ago, the gifted Brazilian once again came up just short of a prestige trophy against German opponents. However, her personal charisma and prodigious footballing skills have undoubtedly made a significant contribution to boosting her sport's ever-increasing appeal in recent months.
We do not have long to wait for the third instalment of the Prinz versus Marta head-to-head. The two best-known but also most polarising players in the world are set to cross swords again in the hunt for gold at the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in Beijing this summer, as Germany and Brazil open the Group F proceedings on 6 August in Shenyang. For Marta, the fixture always looked like a revenge mission. That is doubly the case as of Saturday.