Birgit Prinz, Renate Lingor, Kerstin Stegemann, Sandra
Minnert, Ariane Hingst and Silke Rottenberg, six undisputed greats
of the modern women's game, can point to an almighty
treasure-trove of experience represented by a combined total of 847
international caps. This sextet, more or less the last handful of
stars still playing from a truly golden German generation, have
certainly earned the respect accorded them by the footballing
world. Each made a significant contribution to Germany's
current status as the reigning world and European champions.
However, once events get underway on 10 September at the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007, the watching world will not merely be focused on the star names in Germany coach Silvia Neid's squad. After amassing 111 international caps, Steffi Jones became the first major member of the golden generation to announce her retirement from the international scene, and a recurring theme in the Far East will be the search for talented German youngsters, ready and able to follow in the intimidating footsteps left by Prinz, Lingor and Co.
Angerer displaces Rottenberg
In any case, depth of experience no longer appears a guarantee of first-choice status in the new German set-up. The 35-year-old keeper Rottenberg will be the first of the 'big six' to spend her time in China watching from the sidelines as her designated successor goes about her work. Rottenberg, capped 123 times to date, recovered from cruciate ligament damage in time for the World Cup preparation programme, but then promptly tore a calf muscle and will be sidelined for a number of weeks. That was reason enough for Neid to hand the number-one jersey to Nadine Angerer, a full seven years Rottenberg's junior but a more than worthy stand-in during the veteran's absence.
"We've known Nadine for a long time now, she's spent more than ten years in the national squad," Neid explained. "She's making a very good impression at the moment. She's completed her training as a physiotherapist, so she's thrown herself into the sessions with us and focused totally on the World Cup. I'm certain she'll provide a strong last line of defence at the World Cup." And it is not as if Angerer is a greenhorn: she has already represented her country 46 times.
"We're in the fortunate position of having two world-class keepers in our squad," the coach continued, raising shades of the duel between male counterparts Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann in advance of the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ - although that was a far more emotional and confrontational affair.
Da Mbabi forced to the sidelines
Angerer is unlikely to be the only new German face emerging from the crucible of the tournament in China. FIFA.com has turned the microscope on Neid's new generation, uncovering a handful of hopefuls with the undoubted potential to assume the mantle of responsibility in the future. Indeed, four of the starlets have already experienced for themselves the elation of winning a world title on Asian soil.
Central defender Annike Krahn, striker Anja Mittag and midfield duo Simone Laudehr and Celia Okoyino da Mbabi featured in the Germany side which triumphed at the FIFA U-19 Women's World Cup Thailand 2004. The first three are firmly etched into Neid's plans for China, but the 19-year-old Da Mbabi will be following the World Cup on TV, as the nation's most promising up-and-coming midfielder has yet to recover full fitness after breaking a shin in March.
Mittag, currently on five goals from 38 international appearances, hardly rates as a newcomer any more, despite her relatively tender age of 22. The biggest name at dethroned German champions Turbine Potsdam, her speed makes her a constant menace to any opposing defence. She is also a prolific provider of chances for others, although her own personal strike-rate is an obvious area for improvement.
Four young hopefuls in China
Krahn is two months younger but has already collected 25 caps and demonstrates the kind of level-headedness not normally associated with one so young, so the murmurs of real excitement and intrigue tend to focus on Laudehr. The 19-year-old midfielder, capable of both defensive and attacking duties, has only turned out twice for Neid so far, but caught the eye when opening her goalscoring account in a 5-0 victory over the Czech Republic in early August.
To cap it all, the reigning world champions have a secret weapon up their sleeves in the shape of another 19-year-old, striker Fatmire Bajramaj. With a goal to her name from her first seven internationals, the youngster is currently mining a rich vein of form and commands a reservoir of technical ability which should see her holding her own at the very highest level in the not too distant future. The player with roots in Serbia and Montenegro can also operate at lightning speed down either flank.
"We have a number of young players capable of taking over from the established squad members," an optimistic Neid observed, in the expectation that the new generation will use the stage offered by China to emerge from the shadows and into the spotlight. "I think we have a good blend of younger and older players."
However, exceptions prove the rule, and Germany have Birgit Prinz. Named FIFA Women's World Player of the Year three times in a row between 2003 and 2005, and once again in the kind of irresistible form which could see her leave an indelible mark on yet another FIFA Women's World Cup, the striker justifiably rates as irreplaceable. Just ask the host of young Argentinian hopefuls billed down the years as the new Diego Armando Maradona...