"It was the game of the World Cup for us and it was the day we thought we were finally going to beat the Americans," said Maren Meinert in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, recalling the gripping semi-final against USA at the FIFA Women's World Cup 2003™. "Of all our World Cup matches, it was our worst. The Americans were really good, but after we went in front they weren't able score against us and we killed it off after the 90th minute.

USA were title favourites prior to that encounter, having previously won 11 consecutive World Cup outings and losing only one of their total 22 tournament appearances until then: the semi-final at Sweden 1995, where they were eliminated by eventual champions Norway.

In the 2003 semi-final, coach April Heinrichs' charges were unable to impose themselves on the game at will, as they had throughout the tournament until then, and were left to rue a number of missed chances and a lack of creativity in midfield. In the end the Stars and Stripes lost to a resolute German side by a surprising 3-0 scoreline. One of those goals was scored by Meinert, who was nevertheless far from satisfied with her own performance.

"I had a terrible game," said the 43-year-old. "After the final whistle when I was asked what the plan for the final would be, I answered that I'd like to play well up until the 90th minute, and not just after it. It was a nice experience for the group of players. I have a lot of American friends who I still regularly talk about that game with."

'The best match in the history of women's football'
Meinert and Co went ahead in the 15th minute through Kerstin Garefrekes, allowing a defensively solid Germany side to sit back and attack on the break. Despite the hosts' best efforts, they were unable to find a way through. Kerstin Stegemann marshalled a superbly organised backline, while Silke Rottenberg excelled in goal and kept out all of USA's advances. Meinert, who now coaches Germany's U-19 and U-20 women's teams, and Birgit Prinz put the seal on the victory with two goals from counter-attacks in the 91st and 93rd minutes.

Asked what her thoughts were after putting Germany 2-0 up, Meinert replied: "That we'd finally managed to reach the final. It was a good crop of players but we'd never managed to go all the way at a World Cup. It was high time we did so and it was great for us. We knew now we had beaten the Americans at a major tournament. It was normal for them [to win], but it wasn't for us at the time."

Germany had often gone close to World Cup glory, but this time they cleared the difficult penultimate hurdle thanks to both their skill and fighting spirit in a game which Heinrichs, USA coach at the time, described as "the best match in the history of women's football". "It went to and fro – mostly towards our goal," recalled Meinert. "It was fast-paced and a great game. There was a fantastic atmosphere. And for Heinrichs to say that after losing 3-0 then you know it's a statement that reflects what happened in that semi-final."

Successful career change
Seven days later the Rheinhausen native achieved the crowning glory of her career by winning the World Cup. Germany beat Sweden 2-1 in the Final, with Meinert netting the all-important equaliser to make it 1-1.

"There was a week's break between the semi-final and the final," said the former attacking midfielder. "It was difficult to maintain a high level of tension. We didn't do that as well as the Swedes did. They also had a really good team and in the final we had quite a lot of luck. Maybe that's what you need to win a World Cup, that little bit of luck."

Meinert hung up her boots in the wake of that triumph but has continued her success on the touchline as a coach. She has worked for the German Football Association (DFB) since July 2005 and has gone on to add more silverware to her collection. For example, in 2010 and 2014 she led Germany to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup titles. At the current edition in Papua New Guinea, however, the three-time European champion and her charges packed for home following a 1-0 quarter-final defeat to France.