Who would you want to have around when 80 million people are watching, an entire nation’s expectations rest on your performance, and a win would spark a tidal wave of enthusiasm throughout the country? You want someone like Ariane Hingst, capped 173 times by Germany, but as cheerful, carefree and bursting with enthusiasm as ever. Nor is it an act: Hingst has been like that ever since anyone can remember.
For these and many other reasons, she is a vital member of the hosts and holder's team as they approach the daunting prospect of a sell-out FIFA Women's World Cup 2011 Opening Match against Canada at the Olympiastadion on Sunday.
It is fair to say that the 31-year-old is consumed with passion and anticipation ahead of the game, and for good reason too: the player nicknamed Ari comes from Berlin and learned her footballing trade in the German capital. She advanced to world-class stature in a hugely successful spell with Turbine Potsdam, just outside the metropolis of five million. “There can't be anything better than a World Cup in front of your home crowd. And when I visualise the opening match in front of a full house in my home town, I'm getting goosebumps just at the thought. It's amazing," the versatile defender exclusively told FIFA.com.
Hingst is fully aware that anything less than a convincing victory over the confident Canadians would represent a serious setback for Germany, but the player is experienced enough to cope with the conflicting emotions this thought brings. “We're really looking forward to it, that's for sure, although the pressure is definitely on. But we'll convert that pressure into positive energy." The Germany line-up is likely to feature a blend of youth and experience, so coach Silvia Neid will be looking to her most seasoned players to ensure the pressure does not break the younger players' resolve.
The two-time FIFA Women's World Cup winner, currently on the books at top German outfit FFC Frankfurt, has suffered with injuries in the last couple of years and is unlikely to start Sunday's Opening Match, but she remains an invaluable member of the Germany set-up. Neid will likely turn to the likes of Annike Krahn, Simone Laudehr and Kim Kulig at centre-back and in the holding role respectively, but should the younger players struggle at any time, Ari will be ready and willing to help out.
“We have a terrific blend of younger and older players. What's more, we're a unit comprising a wide range of different characters who happen to get along amazingly well," Hingst continued, reflecting on a Germany set-up where the next generation is rapidly coming to the fore. “Compared to the 2007 World Cup in China, I see the younger players coming on really well. They've also become much more courageous, although I'd add that the new generation is in any case more confident and naturally copes much more easily with the media, for example."
On the eve of the global showdown on home soil, the Berlin-born star feels Germany have greater strength in depth than ever before. “I reckon we'll do very well out of our younger players’ individual class. They're brave, they look to go around their marker, and they relish tackling. These are additional factors which we're adding to our huge experience and our tactical strength. We're much less predictable than we were a couple of years ago."
However, Hingst brushes aside the suggestion that Germany are overwhelming favourites to claim a third world crown on the trot. In the first instance, the hosts must overcome the stern challenge posed by the current champions of North and Central American and the Caribbean, and be seen to play well in the process. “Canada are very dangerous. Coach Carolina Morace has instilled what I'd call a European mentality and style of play. The Canadians have plenty of courage and fighting spirit, and they also have Christine Sinclair, a really quick striker who's one of the best in the world."
However, although the Canadians represent a tough first hurdle, Hingst and Co regard Sunday's match as the first step en route to renewed glory. Ari has seen and done it all to a certain extent, but another triumph this summer would still be very special to her. “I can honestly say that every trophy we've won has been a highlight in my career. I don't really like comparing success with success, but obviously winning the World Cup at home would be the ultimate."
The woman with the No17 is in any case proud of developments in the women's game over the last few years. Hingst knows full well she has contributed to an extraordinary process. “This World Cup in Germany is really important for women's football. We want to set new standards and anchor the sport even more firmly in the community. I believe this tournament can effect real change. After this, we want the floodgates to open!"