Bundesliga stars up for the cup
© AFP

Just in case anyone was in any doubt as whether she was back to the top of her game, Brigit Prinz demonstrated on the last day of the season that she will be more than ready for China 2007. She found the net four times in 1. FFC Frankfurt's 7-0 reverse of Brauweiler Pulheim - proof that she was back to the kind of form that has seen her named FIFA World Footballer of the Year on no less than three occasions.

The 29-year-old ended the season on 28 league goals, making her the Bundesliga top scorer for the fourth time in her dazzling career. Those strikes also helped her club towards what turned out to be a trophy-laden season, with the girls from Frankfurt winning their fifth league and cup double and showing that next season, they will once again be the team to beat.

"I don't know how many years Birgit's been playing now, but she's had an incredible season yet again", enthused Siegfried Dietrich, the director of football at 1. FFC Frankfurt and also league spokesman. "She's quite simply the most amazing player and all eyes will definitely be on her in China," Dietrich added.

Garefrekes and Holl step up to the next level
A surprise package, namely FCR 2001 Duisburg, with their own three-time Bundesliga top scorer Inka Grings, pushed Frankfurt all the way, but when it came to the crunch, coach Jurgen Tritschok's team had enough in the tank to hold them off.

"For me, the real stars this year, as well as Prinz, of course, were Kerstin Garefrekes and Ursula Holl", continued Dietrich. Striker Garefrekes and goalkeeper Holl enabled the Frankfurt team to remain unbeaten throughout the season and lift the sixth title in the club's history. "I'd never have thought that we would win the league by such a margin and end up nine points clear," said Tritschok, who took his team out on to the balcony at Frankfurt's Romer city hall building to celebrate their silverware - a privilege usually only reserved for men's teams.

Garefrekes was third top scorer in the league with 21 goals, behind Prinz (28) and Grings (22), while 24-year-old Holl stepped into the breach when regular keeper and German international Silke Rottenberg had to miss much of the season with a torn cruciate ligament. "She was unbelievably assured between the sticks and has earned a shot at making the squad for China," said Dietrich.

The new generation
It was not just the Frankfurt players who made their mark last season - other teams certainly have bright futures ahead of them. "In Duisburg, you've got Simone Laudehr and Fatmire Bajramaj who played consistently well all season", continued Dietrich. The two youngsters notched 32 times between them and carried their club all the way to the final of the DFB Cup in Berlin. Germany coach Silvia Neid cannot fail to have been impressed with their performances throughout the season.

Last year's champions FFC Turbine Potsdam had to settle for third place this time around, a disappointing return for such a prestigious club, whereas unheralded SG Essen-Schonebeck were delighted with their sixth place. "For me, Essen were the real surprise package this time around," explained Dietrich. "They'll be a force to be reckoned with in the future. Linda Bresonik was one of the main reasons behind their success and was one of the players of the season." Silvia Neid obviously agrees with this assessment, as she has included Bresonik in her pre-tournament squad.

Cristiane: one for the future
One of the other players of the season who will also have a chance to strut her stuff in China is Brazilian international Cristiane Rozeira de Souza Silva. The 22-year-old has yet to show the full extent of her talent in a VfL Wolfsburg jersey. The Auriverde front-runner managed only seven goals last season and seemed to have trouble getting to grips with the faster, more physical demands of European football. No-one is in any doubt, however, that Cristiane will be one of the star players in the Bundesliga in the near future.

Indeed, it is players like Cristiane who are largely responsible for the overall improvement in the standard of the game in Germany over recent years. "The progress made really is very positive. More and more fans are starting to follow the sport, and we're very proud that we have managed to increase average crowds in the Bundesliga from some 900 to around 1,300 spectators per match", said Dietrich. "I think that I am justified in saying that the league as a whole has been a great advertisement for the forthcoming World Cup. We can all really look forward to China."