THE DAY REPLAYED - The best players produce on the biggest stages. It is a maxim as old as the game itself. And so the FIFA Women's World Cup went to Germany for the second time in the new century because when the pressure was at its most intense, Birgit Prinz kept her nerve and Marta did not.
For the team that began this fascinating Chinese extravaganza
with an 11-goal show, they ended it in the same Shanghai stadium
with a victory over Brazil in which they scored twice. But just a
single salvo would have been enough to retain the trophy they won
for the first time in 2003.
One is always enough when you have a goalkeeper and a defence welded together in steely determination not to let anything or anyone get through. After six games, Germany arrived on the winners' podium without having conceded a single goal. And that is an achievement to cherish at any level of the game.
They added a second goal in the final minutes but that was the icing on the cake - the critical moments had occurred earlier in the second half and how appropriate that the first should fall to Prinz. The first woman to appear in three finals sent waves of "Deutschland, Deutschland" reverberating around the ground with her solid finish - not the sweetest connection admittedly - from Sandra Smisek's intelligent cut-back.
Brazil immediately responded. They had not come so far to give up the fight that easily and for the first 45 minutes they had looked the team most likely, Daniela striking the woodwork with a breathtaking volley. Now Cristiane carried the struggle deep into German territory, went tumbling and earned a penalty.
It seemed an age before Marta was able to take the kick. There
was obvious tension spread across her face, rare uncertainty
intruding for this most instinctive, elusive striker. Facing her
down at this moment of truth was a goalkeeper who had forgotten
what its like to fish the ball out of her net.
The record held as Marta aimed left and Nadine Angerer guessed right. The magic which the 21-year-old Brazilian had sprinkled on this tournament from start to finish had deserted her but will derive some consolation from claiming two individual awards: the adidas Golden Ball and the adidas Golden Shoe. Angerer needed to hold out for just another three minutes to claim another record for her landmark-loving team, that of outstripping Italy's Walter Zenga at the 1990 FIFA World Cup™, who went 517 minutes without conceding.
As if on cue it was exactly at that moment that Daniela struck a fine free-kick which the goalkeeper pushed on to the post. From there the heart seemed to drain away from the skilful South Americans and it was all over when, Simone Laudehr, winning her eighth cap, popped up to head home Renate Lingor's corner. The first of Germany's 21 goals had arrived from a left-wing corner and so had their last.
Earlier USA had maintained their record of never finishing outside the top three in a FIFA Women's World Cup, beating Norway 4-1 with that scoring machine Abby Wambach twice on target. There was a rousing ovation for Kristine Lilly when she was substituted near the end to acknowledge her participation in her fifth FIFA Women's World Cup and a consolation goal for Ragnhild Gulbrandsen to take into retirement. Like Wambach, she finished on six goals, one shy of Marta.