Exactly a week before the FIFA Women's World Cup 2011™, Germany's longest-running Sunday evening drama Tatort (Crime Scene) treated its huge viewing audience to an episode centred on women's football. Celia Okoyino da Mbabi appeared in a cameo role, promising Germany would win the global crown for the third time in a row. Seven days later, her actions in front of a sell-out crowd at the Berlin Olympic Stadium fully lived up to her words.
The skilled forward turns 23 today, and she has three good reasons to celebrate. It is her special day of course, and she can also bask in the reflected glory of Germany's 2–1 victory over Canada. But thirdly, she can be delighted at her pivotal contribution to the victory in front of a huge 73,680 crowd. Celia’s outstanding performance fully repaid the faith shown in her by coach Silvia Neid, who surprisingly handed her a place in the starting line-up. Okoyino da Mbabi roused the Germans from a nervy beginning with her prodigious running and steady supply of inventive ideas. Furthermore, she was a constant source of worry to Canada’s otherwise solid defence.
“I'm happy we've opened with a win, but I'm also pleased we didn't stroll to a 4–0 victory. Now everyone knows we have a lot of hard work ahead," the 56-time international told reporters after what was undoubtedly her best display in a national shirt. Neid startled observers before kick-off by selecting Okoyino da Mbabi to play in the hole instead of veteran striker Inka Grings, but Celia is the form player of the moment and responded in style. Bursting with energy, she was the driving force behind her team, patently determined to spark the two-time world champions in front of their home crowd. In the wake of her stellar display, the player has surely cemented her position as one of the figureheads for a new German generation.
The hype in the build-up may have been focused on other members of the squad, but it was Okoyino da Mbabi who made the difference in Berlin. She held up the play expertly in the manner of a born centre-forward, and always looked likely to win her one-on-one situations. For the coach, the superb display by the player wearing the number 13 shirt was less of a revelation. “Celia's played really well in our recent warm-up games, and then confirmed her excellent form in training. We always pick the team based on performance, so I simply had to play her," Neid explained.
Okoyino da Mbabi was responsible for Germany's vital second goal shortly before the interval, a moment she is unlikely to forget in a hurry. “Yes, it was a good goal. Once I realised I wasn't offside, I chased the ball down and just thought to myself: stick it away! The crowd spurred me on," she observed afterwards.
One of the intriguing storylines likely to develop over the course of this FIFA Women's World Cup is how the hard-running player with Cameroonian roots fares. She has long been regarded as an unpolished gem in Germany, but finally appears set to make the breakthrough on the world stage. The player herself is taking each game as it comes. “When we play Nigeria, our passing has to improve, and we have to settle better into the tournament."