England legend Gary Lineker's famous pronouncement about German football may need some subtle adjustment in the light of the dramatic meeting between Germany and China PR at the FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup 2012 in Azerbaijan. It might go something like this: “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two U-17 players chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans equalise in the dying seconds."
The game was well into in stoppage time when Ricarda Kiessling salvaged a point for her team, the scorer disappearing under a ruck of delighted and relieved team-mates. The game could hardly have been more tense and exciting, as coach Anouschka Bernhard agreed afterwards: “We’d happily have secured the result earlier, but I also knew the equaliser meant the game was over and we weren't in any danger of conceding another. But yes, it was nerve-shredding stuff, for us as well.”
One of Germany’s top performers on the day was Sara Dabritz, cool as a cucumber even after the Chinese took an early lead, and a source of good ideas throughout. “We can be satisfied with the performance,” the Germany captain reasoned.
“We did the things we talked about and said we had to do better after the game against Ghana. We totally deserved the equaliser in the last minute. We gave it everything right to the end, and we were ultimately rewarded for that. The late goal speaks for the unity and togetherness in the team.”
Midfield engine with real potential
Dabritz caught the eye back at the UEFA Women's U-17 European Championship with a string of outstanding displays, and has maintained her excellent form at the finals in Azerbaijan. However, she is reluctant to speak about her own strengths, preferring to let others do the talking.
Some commentators have been in raptures about the youngster’s vast reserves of potential, and already rate Dabritz one of the stars of the tournament, but even the loud chorus of praise has not affected the 17-year-old’s innate modesty.
“I'm not thinking any further ahead than the next match, when I want to deliver the goods again. Naturally, I'm just trying to give it my best shot. Let's see what that brings," the player told FIFA.com.
The FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup has served as a launch pad for a clutch of aspiring youngsters in the past. As an example, Japan's Mana Iwabuchi first came to international attention at the inaugural U-17 tournament four years ago in New Zealand, going on to glory just three years later with the Nadeshiko at the FIFA Women's World Cup™ in 2011.
Role models Popp and Marozsan
Senior Germany internationals Alexandra Popp and Dzsenifer Marozsan also enjoyed a first taste of life on the global stage at a FIFA U-17 women's tournament. “Both of them are definitely role models for me," Dabritz said. “They're both very young, but they've already achieved so much, which is amazing. Despite their age, they're already playing for the senior national team. I could certainly take a leaf out of their book," she continued with a broad smile.
Popp and Marozsan fell short of winning the trophy at a U-17 women's tournament, and before Dabritz and Co can start thinking of going one better, they must negotiate their final group match against tournament newcomers Uruguay. Another draw would be enough for the Germans to seal a berth in the last eight.
The captain saw enough of her team’s desire and fighting spirit in the last-gasp stalemate with the Chinese to be confident of success in their final group fixture in Lankaran this Sunday. “It'll give us the strength we need for the next match," the starlet concluded. "Our results in the first two games have left us well-placed to make the quarter-finals, but we have to stick to the task and give it our best shot again against Uruguay."