The mere mention of Nia Kunzer’s name inevitably brings to mind the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ USA 2003 final and her extra-time golden goal against Sweden that sent football fans across Germany into raptures. The defender had only been introduced to the game in place of Pia Wunderlich two minutes before the end of normal time.
“I brought Nia on to provide additional protection in front of the back four as she was the freshest player on the pitch,” explained then national team coach Tina Theune immediately after the match.
Kunzer fitted perfectly into her assigned role by making good use of the space in front of her. She had already had an opportunity to end the match minutes before her moment of glory, finding herself one-on-one with Caroline Jonsson but failing to beat the Swedish goalkeeper. Undeterred by this setback, the then 23-year-old immediately set about creating another chance – and this time she did not miss. In the eighth minute of extra time, Renate Lingor swung a free-kick high into the box from the right-hand side. Waiting near the penalty spot, Kunzer leapt into the air and headed the ball under the crossbar to secure Germany’s first Women’s World Cup title.
For ten years, numerous matches at major international tournaments were settled by a ‘golden goal’, with many subsequently entering the annals of world footballing history. Despite mixed feelings about its introduction, there is no doubt that this rule created some emotional and incredibly dramatic moments.
Golden goal madness
Kunzer experienced these same emotions when the final whistle sounded that day in 2003. “At first I was confused and had absolutely no idea what had happened,” she recalled. “I really didn’t realise what I’d done at first because my header really wasn’t that strong. Then after two or three seconds I felt the first of our players grab me around the neck and I realised we were world champions. It was an indescribable moment. Scoring to win the World Cup is always special. I didn’t care who scored, but the fact that it was me and it was a golden goal was crazy.”
Thirteen years later, Kunzer’s golden goal has lost none of its magic, and the Botswana-born former international is still asked about it to this day. Surely this gets annoying after a while?
“No, not at all,” she explained in an interview with FIFA.com. “That would be a mistake and disrespectful. It was a wonderful moment in my life and a fantastic honour I’m extremely proud of. There are tougher chapters I have to put to the back of my mind, such as my injuries.”
This success earned the now 36-year-old a place in the history books, as her header against Sweden was the last golden goal of all time. “I didn’t think of that at all at the time, and never expected that I’d still be asked about the goal 13 years later,” she said. “The fact that it has lingered in people’s memories is something very special for me and shows just how important the World Cup can be.”
'Still room for improvement'
Kunzer did not make many more appearances for Germany after that fateful day, winning her last international cap in a 13-0 win over Portugal in a UEFA Women’s EURO qualifier on 15 November the same year before announcing her retirement from the national side in 2006. The former Frankfurt defender finally called time on a club career in which she suffered four cruciate ligament injuries at the end of the 2007/08 season.
Now working as a television pundit, Kunzer believes women's football has changed markedly since she hung up her boots. “The game is generally quicker and the players have become more athletic, plus they’re technically better trained these days,” she said. “The same thing happened in the men’s game; it has just taken longer to happen in women’s football. The sport is still progressing and becoming more attractive. Games were slower before – the same is true of men’s football if you compare the 1954 World Cup final with that of 2014. In that respect, the women’s game has come on tremendously in a very short space of time. The infrastructure is better and the media presence is growing too, even though there is still room for improvement.”