Germany striker Inka Grings is a byword for ruthlessness and predatory poaching in front of goal. She boasts an extraordinary strike rate and an enviable record of success both in the Bundesliga and internationally, most notably at the UEFA Women's EURO.
However, the 32-year-old has yet to taste glory at a FIFA Women's World Cup™. She was a member of the Germany squad just once, scoring three goals in four appearances at the global showdown in the USA back in 1999.
The FCR Duisburg stalwart is now hoping to lay her hands on the most prestigious trophy in the women's game on home soil. FIFA.com spoke exclusively to Grings about the art of goalscoring, her partnership with three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Birgit Prinz, and what could well be the last major target of her career.
FIFA.com: You have the best strike rate of any Germany international – did you know that?
Inka Grings: [Laughs] Yes, people tell me that a lot.
Is scoring goals just something humdrum and everyday to you nowadays?
Not at all! Every match is unique. When you're playing football at the highest level, you're always hungry. You can never say scoring goals becomes a chore.
But you get a lot less worked up about it these days…
That obviously has a lot to do with experience, although it always depends on the individual. It comes to some players earlier than to others. It's a learning process, and I've been through it now.
For all your experience and relaxed approach, your first goal at a FIFA Women's World Cup in front of your home crowd would still be special, wouldn't it?
Yes, the first goal definitely would be. And scoring the last goal at the World Cup would be terrific too [laughs].
Do you have any doubts whatsoever about scoring a goal or two at the forthcoming FIFA Women's World Cup?
That's definitely my target. At the end of the day, the trophy is all that counts, but obviously I'll be looking to score goals.
Despite everything you've achieved to date, are you at all nervous right now?
Yes, even Inka Grings gets nervous! I'm basically a fairly cool person, but I’ll have butterflies in my stomach at kick-off.
You're one of the most experienced players in the Germany squad. How would you describe your role in relation to the younger players, especially in this high-pressure situation?
In our pre-tournament training sessions and friendlies, we noticed that the younger players took time getting used to the pace, because it’s obviously completely different compared to the Bundesliga. Sometimes they try things and they don't come off, but we older players take them to one side and say: Don't worry, have another go, keep going! Younger players get anxious in situations like that, so the older players need to spot problems, gee them up and push them along. And the younger players do come over and ask our advice. That's what's special about us. Everything works from top to bottom, and the mutual respect is there. But yes, we older players are aware we have to lead from the front.
There’s one young player in the Germany squad who seems to be a very similar character to yourself, and also plays at the same club in the same position, namely Alexandra Popp. Do you appreciate the role she plays alongside you?
Definitely! We're on the same wavelength. We talk a lot, and she knows she can come to me with anything that's on her mind. I sometimes give her tips, but sometimes I give her a decent kick up the backside too. She's a fabulous character and she'll have a great career, but she knows as well as anyone that she still has a lot of work to do. I'm accompanying her along this path, it's working well and we get along great.
You can already look back on a great career. You've shone at every major tournament except the FIFA Women's World Cup. Does that make the tournament in Germany an even greater challenge?
Absolutely, but I'm very aware of that. I've achieved a lot but I've never won the World Cup. When you play at the highest level, that's basically what you're aiming for. And I know the World Cup is the ultimate highlight – and it’s here in Germany this time. It couldn't be any better. It's a dream come true for me, and I'll do everything in my power to secure a happy ending. I'm really fired up for the tournament.
Many women's football experts rate you one of the best players in the world. However, taking just the FIFA Women's World Cup stats, your strike partner Birgit Prinz stands head and shoulders above the rest. Might that work to your advantage?
Birgit is a massively important member of the team. Whenever she's out on the field, she pulls a minimum of two defenders with her. We obviously try and take advantage of that. Hopefully, after the tournament, people might know my name too [smiles].
Grings and Prinz, two outstanding strikers and two robust characters. How would you describe your partnership?
It's perfect. We're both fully matured. We know what's at stake, i.e. success as a team and not as individuals. That's what makes us both strong. We combine our individual personal strengths for the good of the team. We're absolutely on a wavelength, and you sense it in every training session. When we play, we're both consistent and determined, and that's what we intend to demonstrate at the World Cup.
You're talking about Prinz’ dynamism and Grings’ instinct...
That as well! We harmonise brilliantly and it's a classy combination.
For many years, you were talked about as a difficult character, but you've emerged from that trough and you've been a leading figure in the Germany women's team for a long time. What did you learn from your difficult period?
It's made me what I am today. It certainly was a difficult time in my life. I totally lost my way after my father died. But I've learned there are more important things than football. I'm a lot calmer and a more balanced personality, and I now know what I really want. So you could say I've converted all my troubles into positive energy.
Have your experiences helped you as a player?
I'd say they definitely have. I'm much more level-headed and fundamentally take a more positive outlook. It's important psychologically, and it's changed the way I play to a certain extent. But I've always been marked out by an explosive temperament and an emotional approach, and that will always be the case. It characterises my life, and it's very much a part of me.
You mention you've learned there are more important things than football. In that context, and looking at the forthcoming FIFA Women's World Cup, what could be the long-term impact of the tournament?
I think we're taking a major step towards establishing women's football as a major sport once and for all. We're anchored in the grassroots nowadays. The number of girls and women signing up with football clubs has exploded, which is what we always wanted to achieve. For me personally, it's just wonderful to see so many young women enjoying their football, and becoming more and more courageous too. German women's football will become even more sustainable thanks to the World Cup. Its popularity will certainly remain at or about the levels it’s reached now. I'm thrilled to have been a part of that process. Not very long ago, I'd never even have dreamt of it, and it makes me unbelievably proud.
Turning to the tournament itself, is it realistic for Germany to win the FIFA Women's World Cup a third time in a row?
It's definitely realistic, but as I've said over and over again, this World Cup will be the most difficult ever. The pressure is enormous, although I tend to consider that a positive, and expectations are running incredibly high, despite the fact the other countries have hardly stood still. They've caught up a huge amount of ground in recent years. I'm absolutely convinced there won't be many games ending 3-0, 4-0 or 5-0. I'm a little more reserved when it comes to who'll win the trophy. We'll do everything in our power to make it a treble, but if it doesn't work out, we'll at least bow out in the knowledge that we gave it our best shot.
Which teams are on a par with Germany at present?
First of all, the usual suspects, USA and Brazil. After that, I'm intrigued about the Asian teams, because I reckon you never quite know what you're going to get. The Japanese have certainly come on a very long way technically, for example. And the French and the English both have strong teams. Last but not least, the Scandinavians are always tough.
What would you say are Germany’s main attributes in 2011?
We're even more athletic and we have a number of young players capable of really good football. We've improved enormously in terms of our tactics too. I've seldom felt such a good dressing room atmosphere since 2009, although I wasn't at the World Cup in 2007 of course, and can't comment on that. But it's a really harmonious group, we all respect each other, and we know what's at stake. It's basically perfect!