In Bangkok, Shanghai, and now Frankfurt, Germany midfielder Simone Laudehr has hit the target when it really mattered. Seven years ago, she opened the scoring to set her country's U-19 side on their way to a 2–0 victory over China PR in the final of the global showdown for that age group. She did the same for the seniors in a victory by the same score over Brazil in the Final of the FIFA Women's World Cup 2007™. And on Thursday evening, she sent Silvia Neid’s team through to the quarter-finals of the 2011 tournament with the only goal of the group meeting with Nigeria. If a crucial goal is needed, the 24-year-old has the knack of being on hand, it seems.
Just as the sell-out crowd at the Frankfurt Arena was beginning to muster loud and encouraging support for Neid’s team, who had been struggling to piece together attacking moves against the physically robust African champions, the home team's No6 smacked home a half-volley from six yards to break the deadlock. Fully 54 minutes had already been played, but they must have seemed an eternity to the misfiring German team. It was “cramped and scrappy,” a crestfallen Neid summarised afterwards. Laudehr was a shade more upbeat: “It was fantastic to score the opener. The goal was such a relief!"
Frequently enough, Germany looked as though they might slip up in Frankfurt. Too many passes went astray, the movement up front was easily contained by the Nigeria defence, and the Africans were certainly the harder-tackling of the sides. The Super Falcons, fighting for their tournament lives, gave the holders a mighty scare. “It was vital we never dropped our resistance. That's how you win that kind of game," Laudehr told reporters afterwards.
The midfielder, now capped 43 times by her country, operates alongside Kim Kulig in central midfield, providing the crucial distributive link between defence and attack. She is well aware that experiences like Thursday night’s can be a decisive factor in tournament play. The towering expectations of the home support seemed to weigh heavily on the Germans at times, so it could well be that a sleeves-rolled-up triumph finally frees the players mentally and recharges their physical batteries. The three points against Nigeria mean Germany can finish no lower than second in Group A, so Simone's strike means the first and minimum target has been achieved, potentially leading to a real boost in confidence among the players.
“We made life difficult for ourselves. We hung onto the ball too long, and that meant it didn't work out for us a lot of the time," the Regensburg-born player reasoned. The Germans now meet France in Monchengladbach on Tuesday, needing a win to pip their fellow Europeans to top spot in the section.
According to Laudehr, Germany know they must improve. “It's absolutely necessary that we switch wings much more often," said the player. She and Kulig, both of whom go into Tuesday's clash with a yellow card to their names, will be tasked with doing just that from their positions in the centre of the park. Laudehr, for one, is comfortable with the responsibility. She has already proved her ability to deliver when it matters, as she proved in Bangkok, Shanghai, and Frankfurt, and you would not bet against her making another vital contribution before the tournament ends.