Following two uninspiring, single-goal victories, Germany, the hosts, holders and overwhelming pre-tournament favourites, exhilarated spectators at the third time of asking in this FIFA Women's World Cup™. Indeed Silva Neid's side beat France, who finished with ten players, 4-2 in the battle to see which team went through as Group A winners and which as runners-up. Kerstin Garefrekes, Inka Grings (2) and Celia Okoyino da Mbabi got the German goals in the tournament's highest-scoring match to date.
Germany will now meet Japan in a Wolfsburg quarter-final on Saturday, while France encounter England in Leverkusen on the same day.
Les Bleues, boasting the superior goal difference, required only a draw to finish at the section summit, and the first ten minutes in Monchengladbach were evenly balanced. Germany assumed control of possession thereafter, though, and after their attempts to employ through-balls to create chances were repelled, they decided to go down a different avenue by sending crosses into the box.
It paid dividends. First, Garefrekes leapt highest to powerfully head home an inviting Babett Peter free-kick on 25 minutes, and soon after Grings nodded a delightful Simone Laudehr cross past Berangere Sapowicz to make it 2-0.
Following the restart, Bruno Bini's girls demonstrated their own aerial prowess, with half-time substitute Marie-Laure Delie somehow winning the ball inside a congested area to head home a Sandrine Soubeyrand corner on 56 minutes.
Twelve minutes later, though, Germany seemingly put the contest beyond their opponents' reach. Fatmire Bajramaj was hauled down by Sapowicz, and the referee pointed to the spot and red-carded the France keeper. Celine Deville came off the bench to stand between the sticks, but the 29-year-old's first touch was to pick the ball out of the back of the net, having been sent the wrong way by Grings.
France nevertheless refused to throw in the towel, and four minutes later they halved the deficit via Laura Georges's thumping header from a corner. Moments later they were almost level, with Delie eluding her marker but pulling her shot narrowly wide from inside the box.
But that was to be the underdogs' final throw of the dice. Within moments, a fine Grings free-kick drew gasps from the crowd as it hit the side-nentting, before Bajramaj's effort was clered off the line by the sliding Camille Abily.
Germany finally got the fourth goal their pressure deserved a minute from time, with Okoyino da Mbabi Peter completing the move following nice work from Peter and Garefrekes. It sent the Monchengladbach crowd into raptures. Finally, their heroines had showcased the brand of football which had installed them as the competition's team to beat.