Fatmire Bajramaj had played only 68 minutes of the Women's Olympic Football Tournament in advance of Germany’s bronze medal play-off against Japan, but the 20-year-old was quite simply the difference between the sides in Beijing on Thursday.
The Duisburg starlet came off the bench in the second half and promptly struck a brace to swing a dour encounter Germany’s way. "I’m just glad I’ve finally scored again,” the visibly relieved player told FIFA.com afterwards, "I can’t remember the last time I scored for the national team. It’s indescribable,” Bajramaj beamed.
Japan were all over the sluggish Germans in the first period. "We were totally unfocused in the first half and they put us under a lot of pressure, but we looked like we wanted to win in the second half. We wanted the bronze,” the wide midfielder said after all but single-handedly winning the match for the Germans.
A brace worth bronze
She was in the right place at the right time after 69 minutes, cracking home the rebound from a tight angle after Japan keeper Miho Fukumoto failed to hold a Kerstin Garefrekes header. The player known to all as 'Lira' then outfoxed her marker with a fine bodyswerve before drilling a low drive into the net to seal Germany’s win.
Despite claiming bronze, the world champions never fired on all cylinders at any time during the tournament. A goalless opener against Brazil and narrow 1-0 victories over Nigeria and Korea Republic saw the Germans through to the quarter-finals, where they finally overcame Sweden 2-0 in extra-time. However, their lingering dreams of gold crumbled to dust in a sobering 4-1 semi-final defeat to the on-fire Brazilians.
"Something was missing, and we ourselves don’t know what it was. We’ll work it out later. We lacked goals and freshness, and we were nowhere near as ruthless as last year,” said Bajramaj.
Nevertheless, the bronze medal was still a reason to celebrate in the victors’ dressing room. The team arrived in Beijing with high expectations, and Bajramaj has now set her sights equally high in terms of her future role for the national team. "Obviously, my next target is to secure a regular starting place, and I’ll get there in due course,” she says with confidence.
The first task is to bring the celebrations to a close and see the tournament through to a fitting end. "Then we’ll forget it and move on,” Bajramaj declared, "for now, we’re delighted with the bronze."