There were a mere 58 seconds on the clock during the second FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup 2012 semi-final between hosts Japan and reigning champions Germany, but an eerie silence had already fallen over the home fans at the National Stadium in Tokyo. Melanie Leupolz had just latched onto a slide-rule pass from Dzsenifer Marozsan and given the Germans the lead less than a minute into the match.
"It all happened so quickly," the SC Freiburg striker told FIFA.com of the lightning start to the match for Germany. "Dzseni won the ball in midfield and timed her pass through to me perfectly. I was able to choose my corner and put the ball in the back of the net."
The Young Nadeshiko should have been on their guard right from the first whistle, as Leupolz, who at 18 is the third-youngest member of the Germany squad, has already made a name for herself with early goals at this tournament. She failed to get onto the score sheet in the first two matches, but it took her only 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute against USA to score what would be the final goal of the game in a 3-0 win. In the quarter-finals she outdid herself, scoring a mere seven minutes after kick-off against the Norwegians, but even better was to follow against the hosts.
"It's not all down to me – this was a team performance," she said. "We settle into our games very quickly and perhaps opponents aren't expecting attacks with such precision so early on."
Battle of the powerhouses
This quality has become somewhat of a calling card for Germany as they rack up the victories, the defending champions have taken the lead in the opening minutes in three of their five matches so far. "In women's football it's incredibly important to score first, and this is how we set out to play at the start of every match," explained coach Maren Meinert. "The other teams obviously want to do this as well but we've been pretty successful with it up until now. It's a mixture of skill and luck."
The Germans will need plenty of both of those on Saturday when they face USA in the decider. The two behemoths of women's football, who are each gunning for a third title at this event, already met in the group stages with Germany cruising to a 3-0 win.
"It will be totally different game though, particularly since it's a final," said Leupolz, keen not to rest on her laurels after Germany's success against these familiar foes. "The win obviously gives us some confidence but we can't afford to underestimate USA. We know how they play but the opposite is also true, so we just need to forget about the group game."
Extra source of motivation
To help them take their mind off the big game, Germany's coaching staff gave the players an afternoon off from training. "We went around the city, bought souvenirs and then at the end we went for something to eat," said Leupolz. However much they enjoyed their day off though, the players' thoughts inevitably returned to Saturday's showdown – after all, it is not every day that you have the opportunity to win a FIFA World Cup. "Becoming world champions would be such a great experience," says Leupolz, who is a great fan of FIFA World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, "but we shouldn't be thinking too much about a potential title." For Germany, it is simply a case of having one more game to play, giving it their all, fighting for every ball and sticking to their tactics for their sixth and final FIFA World Cup match.
Leupolz is not worried that tens of thousands of fans in the National Stadium in Tokyo might be against them after Germany saw off the hosts in the semi-finals. Instead she is looking forward to playing in front of such a large crowd and the overall support they will provide, regardless of whether they are for or against her team.
The match gets under way on Saturday at 19.20 local time, and both the US team and their fans can consider themselves warned. When Leupolz plays, the fireworks tend to start early…