As the final whistle blew confirming Germany's 3-0 semi-final win over Norway, Kerstin Stegemann certainly enjoyed the moment to the full. She was the dictionary definition of "grinning from ear to ear" and had every right to be. Not only had she played a virtually error-free 90 minutes at right-back but Stegemann even scored the decisive second goal, proving that she is as important as she is popular in coach Silvia Neid's squad.
"I was absolutely over the moon because I finally managed to score an important goal," Stegemann told FIFA.com after Wednesday's match in Tianjin. "The best part of it is, I told the girls on the bus on the way into the match that I felt good and that I was going to score." This would explain why the team were so ecstatic when the 29-year-old was set up by the impressive as ever Birgit Prinz and scored via a deflection. The whole Germany squad are aware of Stegemann's worth and know only too well how hard she works for the side, so to see her score a goal was a special moment for her team-mates.
Germany's victory against a disappointed and frustrated Norway team, coupled with Germany's near-perfect record on their way to the final, have combined to give Stegemann an early birthday present. Set to turn 30 on the eve of Sunday's FIFA Women's World Cup final in Shanghai, the defender could not have asked for anything more. "I told the team before the match that I only had one wish - to play in the final," she said.
'Time to celebrate afterwards'
Stegemann is not too concerned that she will not be able to celebrate her birthday on the day itself, given her focus will be on preparing for the next day's showdown with Brazil. "To tell you the truth, I can't imagine anything better. There will be enough time for celebrations afterwards, provided we've defended our world title, of course."
With successive 3-0 wins over two highly-regarded opponents in Korea DPR and Norway, the Germany team can look forward with a genuine sense of optimism. Neid's squad have struggled on occasion during the tournament but always raised their game when circumstances required it. Moreover, Stegemann and her defensive colleagues are yet to concede a single goal in the competition.
Despite this record, Stegemann, who has 164 caps and has played every minute of Germany's five matches at China 2007, is remaining cautious. Big talk prior to a match is definitely not her style. "We certainly gained a lot of confidence from the Korea game and we carried on in a similar vein today," Stegemann told FIFA.com. "I'm sure that we can defend our title, but the final will come down to whoever plays better on the day, and that's why we need to make sure our preparation for it is perfect."
No champagne to celebrate the defender's birthday on Saturday, then. But there will certainly be a few bottles on ice, ready for Sunday night.