The knockout rounds of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007
get under way on Saturday with an absolute cracker of a tie as
title-holders Germany take on a Korea DPR team seen by many experts
as potential tournament winners. Germany coach Silvia Neid's
star-studded squad could be in for their biggest test yet, having
previously topped Group A without conceding a goal - a feat they
also achieved in 1991. With Birgit Prinz becoming the all-time FIFA
Women's World Cup top scorer (13 goals and counting) and a
record tournament win under their belts (11-0 versus Argentina),
the Germans are on a roll.
The North Koreans, for their part, have made it to the quarter-finals of the elite event for the first time, but have every intention of going even further and repeating their success at the FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship Russia 2006. Both sides harbour serious title ambitions, but only one can take their place in the last four.
Elimination at this comparatively early stage would be a real disappointment for reigning champions Germany, though they know there will be no more easy opponents. In the group stage, Neid's charges showed just what they were capable of in beating Argentina 11-0 and Japan 2-0, while Korea DPR were equally impressive in their 2-2 draw with another tournament favourite, USA. In their other group matches, however, both teams showed that they could yet step up another gear.
It will be interesting to see how Neid's experienced team cope with the Koreans' incredible athleticism. Technically and tactically the sides appear evenly matched, and the Koreans rightly believe that beating Germany would be their chance to signal that they are one of the world's top teams. With expectations high on both sides, the winner is likely to be whichever team manage to retain their composure.
For Germany, midfielder Simone Laudehr is back after sitting out the last match due to two yellow cards, while centre-half Sandra Minnert has also returned from injury. Forward Sandra Smisek and defender Linda Bresonik are suffering from groin strains and may face late fitness tests, though team doctor Bernd Lasarzewski believes both players will be ready. For Korea DPR, Kim Kwang-Min will have the luxury of a full squad to call on for this crucial tie.
Germany and Korea DPR's women have only met once before, at last year's FIFA U-20 Women's World Championship in Russia where the Asian side ran out 2-0 winners in a group game before going on to win the competition. Eight players here at China 2007 featured in that tournament, five from Korea DPR (Jon Myong-Hui, Kim Kyong-Hwa, Kil Son-Hui, Ri Un-Suk and Hong Myong-Gum) and three from Germany (Babett Peter, Simone Laudehr and Fatmire Bajramaj). Germany's record against Asian teams at the FIFA Women's World Cup gives plenty of room for optimism, however: five matches, five wins, ten goals scored and none conceded.
The birthday girl
Germany's Kerstin Garefrekes and Saskia Bartusiak have already celebrated their birthdays at this FIFA Women's World Cup, while Kerstin Stegemann will be 30 a week to the day after the match with Korea DPR and thus a day before the Final in Shanghai. Twenty-four hours before Stegemann's birthday, Korea DPR's Sonu Kyong Sun will turn 24.
We knew as soon as the draw was made that we would face a tough team in the quarter-finals, and Korea DPR certainly are a tough team. They won last year's U-20 World Cup playing some very good football. They are tactically incredibly well prepared and can easily outwit you and they are also physically very strong. This quarter-final is going to be a real test for us - Silvia Neid, Germany coach
We'll give it our best shot against Germany and try to beat them. We will trust our own strengths and try to keep winning one match at a time and make it through to the Final... We can win this World Cup - Kim Kwang-Min, Korea DPR coach
We need to improve with every match. And we will improve - Kerstin Garefrekes, Germany forward