Monday was Birgit Prinz's day. The three-time FIFA
Women's World Player of the Year scored the opener in
Germany's 2-0 win over Japan, firing the holders to the top of
the group and a place in the last eight.
She also overtook legendary American forward Michelle Akers at the pinnacle of the FIFA Women's World Cup scoring charts, which she now leads with 13 goals. The 29-year-old striker had every right to bask a little in her performance on a warm September evening in Hangzhou. And yet...
Prinz is always good for a surprise comment or two in her
interviews, and after a tough match against a Japan team that never
gave up the ghost, the Frankfurt forward told
FIFA.com: "I'm annoyed with myself!"
Her displeasure had nothing to do with missing the team bus after
having to take a routine drugs test, which meant she also missed
the 11.30pm dinner back at the team hotel.
Nor was it down to the horde of journalists waiting for her after the test to hear her thoughts on her new record, by which time it was almost midnight. "I'm just not happy with the way I played today," she said in typically understated fashion, words that underline her determination not to rest on her laurels.
'Goals aren't my yardstick'
Prinz is experienced enough to know whether Germany's performances thus far at China 2007 would be enough to propel them to another title. "We need to improve and we can improve," she said. "Sometimes we play well, but other times we struggle a bit."
This inconsistency is exactly why Prinz's strike, which gave her team a 1-0 lead over Japan after 20 minutes, was so significant. "I think that my goal was important for us, as it gave us a sense of security," she said, before insisting she did not give her new record a second's thought as she celebrated scoring. "Goals win matches, but they aren't my yardstick. I wouldn't even have known about this record if the journalists hadn't asked me about it."
It is easy to believe her, since setting records and writing new chapters in the history books is part and parcel of Prinz's storied career. With 168 caps and 114 goals so far, she is already a double German record-holder. And while she is by no means indifferent to her latest feat, the No9 is focusing on lifting the FIFA Women's World Cup Trophy for a second time, which would be another record as no team has ever defended their title successfully. "I will soon realise just what the World Cup goal-scoring record means, but I don't think it'll quite sink in until later," she said.
Praise from Neid and Angerer
It is not just her boundless ambition that makes her invaluable to the Germany team, and Silvia Neid knows it. Speaking to FIFA.com inside the Hangzhou Dragon Stadium on Monday night, the German coach was all smiles. "I'm very proud of Birgit, and I'm proud of the fact that we have a player like her in our ranks. I'm obviously delighted with her record as well."
In a Germany team which has struggled to take its chances in the last two games, Prinz has been the one player who has always looked dangerous, a fact Neid knows all too well. "Birgit is incredibly important for us, since she can turn a game on her own," said the coach.
And it is exactly this skill that she will need in abundance from the quarter-finals on, where opportunities will surely be at a premium. Goalkeeper Nadine Angerer summed it up best: "We're really pleased for Birgit about her new record, and without a doubt, we're definitely going to need her for the rest of the tournament!"