“You’ve got what it takes to be a superhero,” is the refrain from one of the Germany U-17 side’s favourite songs [Superhelden by Apollo 3, from the film Vorstadtkrokodile (The Suburban Crocodiles)] – and it is a sentiment that perfectly fits the team’s latest star.
“She was the logical choice,” said Germany coach Anouschka Bernhard when asked to explain her decision to bring 14-year-old Lena Oberdorf on in the 71st minute. Just 49 seconds later, the team’s youngest player and the second-youngest footballer at the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2016 – Ghana’s Rafia Kulchirie was born just a day later – made World Cup history. “Everything happened so fast,” Oberdorf said. “The ball came to me and somehow I took it on my knee, and the next thing I knew it had gone in.” Football can be a funny old game sometimes.
As well as giving her team a decisive 2-0 lead in their final Group B match against Cameroon, Oberdorf’s goal was the quickest ever scored by a substitute in the history of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. “Really? I didn’t know that, but it was definitely crazy,” she told FIFA.com in the Mixed Zone after the match while running her fingers through her freshly-showered hair.
“She’s such a mature player for her age,” Bernhard said. “At 14, she already has incredible athleticism. She’s got pace to burn and can be deployed anywhere in attack. She’s got both the technical ability to dictate play from further back and the physical strength to push forward.” While her mother’s background in track and field may go some way to explaining her skills, the fact that Oberdorf plays for the boys’ U-17 team at TSG Sprockhovel is certainly a factor. “I really only train and play with boys,” the young starlet explained. “It toughens you up and teaches you to stand up for yourself.”
The win against Cameroon means the reigning European champions now progress to the quarter-finals as Group B winners. While their next opponents Spain will be a tough nut to crack, Germany’s latest history-maker refused to stake her claim for a starting place. “I didn’t come to Jordan expecting to start many matches or play many minutes,” she explained. “I’m just enjoying the moment and pleased when I can help the team like I did today. As the youngest in the squad, I’ll still be the first one in the middle when we play four-against-two in training tomorrow morning.”
What goes through a 14-year-old’s head after scoring such a historic goal? “After scoring I thought of Caro [midfielder Caroline Siems] straightaway.” At that very moment, the player in question walked past to offer an explanation. “After Lena missed a chance in the game against Venezuela just after coming onto the pitch, I told her that I’d celebrate with her if she scored. She’s a fantastic player and I’m delighted for her,” the German full-back said, before quipping: “Now I’ve got to get our little chick off to bed – it’s past her bedtime.”
With that, the pair cheerfully ambled away from the Mixed Zone at Al Zarqa’s Prince Mohammed International Stadium towards the team bus, where top scorer and general party starter Giulia Gwinn was preparing to set the mood. There was only one choice for the first song on the playlist – and its chorus offers a hint of what might lie ahead for Oberdorf.