The waiting is almost over and the scene is set. The eyes of the footballing world are on Shanghai, where Silvia Neid's Germany are preparing to face Jorge Barcellos' Brazil on Sunday in the Final of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007. A win for Birgit Prinz and Co and the Germans would go down in history as the first side to successfully defend the coveted title. For keeper Nadine Angerer, the final can only be treated as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: "We just want to get out there and win."
Germany's campaign has been built on an outstanding defensive record, with Angerer yet to concede a goal at China 2007. That said, the watertight German rearguard will need to be at their very best to deny a Brazil attack in scintillating form, with No10 Marta alone having notched no fewer than seven goals thus far. "We have to close them down and defend in numbers. That's the way to stop Brazil," says Neid.
Angerer herself has an extra motivation. The 28-year-old - already a record-breaker at the women's showpiece - must keep a clean sheet for at least the first 67 minutes of Sunday's decider to surpass the mark set by Walter Zenga at the 1990 FIFA World Cup™, the Italy legend having gone a staggering 517 minutes without conceding. Her contribution has certainly not gone unnoticed by her team-mates further up the field. "We've got a rock-solid defence," said playmaker Renate Lingor in an interview with FIFA.com.
Prinz leading from the front
Ahead of the first FIFA Women's World Cup Final to pit a European team against South American opposition, the contrasts between the two nations' performances here in China are stark.
Dynamic, vastly experienced and ruthlessly efficient, Germany are aiming to get the better of an Auriverde team packed with skill, exuberance and possessing the women's game most explosive talent in their magnificent No10. The reigning champions certainly take more than just a solid defence into the finale of the fifth edition of the showpiece event. In Birgit Prinz, the three-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year, they have a forward capable of settling any encounter.
The Frankfurt forward already has four goals to her name at China 2007, and for many of her admirers, it is her ability to rise to the very biggest occasions that sets her apart. "Birgit is a hugely important player for us. She can win games on her own," says Neid, who will be hoping to see Prinz firing on all cylinders in Shanghai on Sunday.
Bajramaj ready to step in
The experienced coach will be eagerly monitoring the progress of 21-year-old midfielder Melanie Behringer, who faces an uphill battle to recover from a calf injury in time for the final. Waiting in the wings is gifted 19-year-old Fatmire Bajramaj, who put in a performance full of pace and Brazil-like artistry in the 3-0 semi-final success over Norway.
As the big match draws closer, the level of nervous tension in the German camp is beginning to show, an impromptu table tennis tournament providing a welcoming distraction from the pre-match anxiety. "We'll just go out to enjoy the final," says experienced No10 Lingor, attempting to relieve some of the pressure on the younger members of the squad. Yet the expectancy remains, the final of the FIFA Women's World Cup China 2007 beckons, and for an exceptional generation of German footballers, this is their opportunity to make history.