When Germany overcame Sweden in the Rio Olympics Gold Medal Match, it was as much a victory for departing Head Coach, Silvia Neid, as it was for the nation and its fans.
You could say it was almost fate that Neid, one of the most respected and coveted coaches in the history of women’s soccer, would walk away with a gold medal around her neck in her final match as coach of a Germany side who had only a year earlier come away with nothing, after losing the third-place playoff match at the World Cup in Canada to England.
Victory meant a first medal for the Germans outside of the European Championships since they won bronze in Beijing in 2008, having fallen at the quarterfinal stage at the 2011 World Cup, which meant they also failed to qualify for the Olympics in London the following year. Add the fourth placed finish in Canada, and Germany’s dominance of the European Championships was not being transferred to the world stage.
Despite being one of the favorites for Olympic Gold, it didn’t look like they would be ending that run early on, despite a 6-1 win over Zimbabwe – a match overshadowed by some less than savory challenges by the Africans including one that led to a tournament-ending injury to influential midfielder, Simone Laudehr.
This was followed by a 2-2 draw against the Matildas of Australia, who went 2-0 up through Samantha Kerr and Caitlin Foord, only for Sara Däbritz and Saskia Bartusiak to level. To say the Germans got out of jail would be an understatement.
The shoe was on the other foot in the final group match against Canada, who were able to cancel out Melanie Behringer’s early penalty following a double from veteran forward Melissa Tancredi. This meant the Germans would limp into the knockout phase with just one win from their three matches.
By the time the quarterfinal match with China arrived, Germany, and the world, knew that there would be a new gold medalist in Brazil, with the United States having been knocked out earlier in the day on penalty-kicks by eventual runners-up, Sweden. Glove changes and harsh words at full-time from Hope Solo dominated the headlines in the aftermath, but that’s not the focus of this article.
Another Melanie Behringer strike, her fourth of the tournament, was enough to overcome a stubborn China defense, sending Silvia Neid’s team into the semifinal, and a repeat match-up from the group stages against Canada.
Despite having one of the most well balanced sides in the competition with youngsters like Jessie Fleming and Janine Beckie, one of the standouts in the tournament, complimenting the experience of Christine Sinclair and Sophie Schmidt, the Canadians were unable to repeat their group stage exploits.
Behringer, who will find out on January 9 if she has won the FIFA World Player of the Year after making the final three alongside Marta and Carli Lloyd, gave the Germans the lead, again from the penalty spot. Sara Däbritz, one of Germany’s rising stars at Bayern Munich, put the game to bed with a second just before the hour mark. And so, to the final. It wasn’t Germany v USA as some had predicted, or even Germany against the brilliance of Marta and hosts Brazil.
It was in fact, against Sweden, a team that you could probably tag with the term ‘party poopers’ if you follow the USA or Brazil, having knocked out the existing gold medalists and the hosts of the competition in consecutive matches. But do they care what people think of them? Of course not, and nor should they.
Having seen Sweden defend resolutely in the matches against the U.S and Brazil, many expected the same against the Germans – how wrong we all were! Sweden were much more adventurous in the final and despite Anja Mittag missing the chance of the half for the Germans, were worthy of their position as the teams went in goalless after the first 45 minutes.
All tournament, fans, media and followers of the women’s game has been waiting with baited breath for the magic of Dszenifer Marozsan to light up the competition and show why she is considered to be one of the world’s best.
It’s fair to say she had a quiet tournament, but big players show up on the biggest of stages, and Marozsan did just that with a wonderful moment of brilliance a few minutes into the second half, curling a shot from the edge of the box past the goalkeeper of the tournament, Hedvig Lindahl, to give the Germans the lead.
Rising prospect Stina Blackstenius pulled a goal back for the Swedes following the most unfortunate of own-goals from defender Linda Sembrant, but it was too little, too late. Neid’s team held out for a 2-1 win, and claimed their first ever Olympic Gold Medal, with Pia Sundhage and her Sweden team having to settle for a deserved silver.
For Germany, the tournament started slowly, but much like for the U.S in Canada, gathered pace as the competition progressed. Melanie Behringer was rightly named Player of the Tournament, while head coach Silvia Neid departed the sideline as a winner in the fashion stakes, and a winner in the hearts of German fans everywhere.
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