Germany reign supreme in poignant Siamese send-off
The day replayed - Bangkok's majestic Rajamangala Stadium was the fitting stage for Germany's impressive 2-0 victory over a brave, but hopelessly outclassed China. Riding a rich unbeaten streak at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship all the way to the final match, Germany flexed their muscles once again in a vibrant finale befitting the 'Land of a Thousand Smiles.' The still-disappointed USA took home bronze earlier in the night, while brilliant Brazil leave Siam empty-handed.
In sharp contrast with the meaningful final later a largely superfluous, listless battle for bronze in Bangkok, the third-place under card was always going to be a study in anticlimax.
With two goals in only two first-half shots on target, the States - playing for their wounded pride - were on their way early against a clearly exhausted Brazil. Another in the second half from supremely gifted finals starlet and adidas Silver Ball winner Angie Woznuk once-again shined a light on Brazil's rather glaring Achilles heel between the posts. With keeper Thais back in the side for the first time since a monumental gaffe against Nigeria in the first round, she looked to have learned little from her long stretch on the bench. The final strike also saw Woznuk finish the finals with three goals and three assists, only just edging out Marta for adidas Bronze Shoe honours as third-top scorer at the finals.
But demoralised Marta - hands-down the finals' best player and perhaps the most gifted female footballer of all-time - looked only a shadow of herself in a largely meandering match played under Siam's intense afternoon sun. The maddening magician's oft-times endearing fits of impetuous and emotional revelry looked more distracted than on previous occasions. And though she tried and tried, her efforts were all in vain as the previously free-scoring South Americans were kept off the board for the second time in two matches.
At the final whistle, the U.S. half-heartedly celebrated a hollow third-place finish with class and decorum, while defenceless finals entertainers Marta, Cristiane and Brazil trudged off - so close yet so far to bettering their finish at Canada 2002.
"It was very difficult because our expectation was to be in the final," Brazil boss Luiz Ferreira remarked on the relative anti-climax of the match. Surely the politely smiling Americans also thought a spot in the final was on the cards.
As the blinding Siamese sun disappeared behind the large old stadium's western stand, anticipation was palpable. Scores of German fans rolled in with coloured balloons and full voices, while the all-too recognisable red standard of China waved in earnest anticipation throughout the 23,000 strong crowd.
And even before most of the late-arriving fans had found their seats, the much-anticipated, though somewhat surprising, final was effectively over. In only the 4th minute, finals striking sensation Anja Mittag flicked a header in dangerously, creating more than a bit of havoc in the Chinese penalty area. Simone Laudehr made no mistake hammering home from the doorstep before launching into a wild, almost knowing celebration.
The Chinese, who in truth must have been as surprised as anyone to find themselves on this vaunted stage, were unable to mount any significant resistance in the remaining 86 minutes. Their 117 minute-streak without conceding a goal gone so quickly, the myth of defensive invincibility was torn asunder - leaving little more than self doubt.
Despite a yeoman-like effort from the Asians, Germany were a cut above their overly regimented rivals. And, Mittag again had a hand in the killer second goal. She dropped the ball off to Melanie Behringer at the edge of the box and the midfielder made no mistake, hammering low into the corner for her second goal of the finals - and surely the most important of her young life.
Without any substantive ideas going forward and not a single shot on goal, the Steel Rosebuds always looked like wilting on this humid night. And when the final whistle went, the Germans celebrated passionately, leaving the valiant Chinese to bow to the crowd in a show of beautiful humility. Beaten but not disgraced, the red-clad battlers had done themselves, their country and coach Wang Haiming duly proud.
The laurels were only as much as the Germans deserved. And despite being edged out by Canada's Brittany Timko for adidas Golden Shoe honours, magical Mittag was thoroughly deserving of her adidas Silver Shoe award for second-best scorer and adidas Bronze Ball for the finals' third-best player.
Adidas Silver Ball honours went to the States' Woznuk, while vanquished Marta also made an encore appearance on the podium to collect her adidas Golden Ball award as Thailand 2004's most-outstanding player. Almost predictably though, she cut a profoundly sad picture even with the glittering trophy in her hands. But though frowning now, her culture, wit and ability left more than their fair share of smiles over a wondrous month of football in Southeast Asia.
And in an extravagant closing ceremonies marked by thunderous fireworks explosions illuminating the steamy Thai sky, the finals came to a fittingly colourful and theatrical conclusion as Germany's song and dance went on long into the night.