Well, a couple of days.
In my last blog entry I waxed lyrical about the hopes of the women’s side and the Under 17s… Only to see both campaigns come to a juddering halt.
On Thursday, Steffen Freund’s U17s took on hosts Mexico in the second semi-final in the remote city of Torreon, with the winners lining up against a Uruguay side that had pulled off one of the shocks of the tournament by inflicting a 3-0 defeat on much-fancied Brazil.
The boys in white fell behind with less than five minutes gone as Julio Gómez shrugged off defender Cimo Röcker and headed the ball into the net with German ‘keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos rooted the spot, but by the tenth minute they were back in it courtesy of the impressive Samed Yasil who scored his sixth goal in as many matches after a being out through by skipper Emre Can. When Can put the Jungs in front with an hour gone after a superb burst through the Mexican defence, things looked good for a place in the final.
With just over fifteen minutes to go, the influential Can was taken off by Freund. If the skipper was unfit there’s nothing than can be said about it, but if his substitution was a tactical move then it backfired completely. With the talented skipper back on the bench, Germany slipped into a defensive formation and simply invited the Mexicans to come at at them: and this the hosts did, roared on by a fanatical crowd.
Less than two minutes after Can had left the field, the Mexicans were back in it. A corner was swung in, eluding Vlachodimos and curling straight into the net; in the ensuing goalmouth scuffle, Mexican forward Julio Gómez collided with Yesil on the line, leaving him out cold with his teammates charging off in celebration. Having been carried off the field, Gómez returned with a bandaged head, “Terry Butcher hero” stylee. I got this nagging feeling that we were not going to see the last of him.
And so it proved: as the final seconds of normal time ticked away, the home side upped the ante. Another corner was swung in, and after the ball was nodded across the box it found Gómez, who found the back of the net with a spectacular overhead kick. It was was ultimate footballing killer cliché: boy knocked out cold, returns with a stitched-up head wound, and scores an unbelievable winner at the death.
When they were 2-1 up Germany could and perhaps should have killed the game off: the substitution of Emre Can and the equally influential Levent Ayçiçek clearly upset the balance of a side that had always looked better going forward than trying to defend. In attempting to hold onto their advantage, Freund’s side only had themselves to blame. All that remains now is a third-place play-off against Brazil, where they can hope to match the achievement of the senior side.
Die Sommermärchen ist vorbei…
The same could be said of Silvia Neid’s reigning women’s world champions, whose quest for an unprecedented third successive title collapsed in a heap at the hands of Japan in front of a sell-out crowd at Wolfsburg’s Volkswagen Arena on Saturday.
It was not for want of trying: even after playmaker Kim Kulig was forced to leave the field with a cruciate ligament injury with just three minutes played, Die Frauen dominated the Japanese for most of the regulation ninety minutes. However, as had been the case in earlier matches they failed to get beyond first gear. In the earlier games they had at least managed to get on the scoresheet, but on this occasion they would draw a blank in front of goal.
Result at full-time: 0-0.
Even with the game going into the additional half an hour, there could still only be one result: by hook or by crook the Germans would win – after all, how could they not? Anything else was simply not possible. It was therefore something of a surreal moment when the Japanese broke the deadlock three minutes into the second period of extra time, silencing the home crowd as half-time substitute Karina Maruyama swept the ball past Nadine Angerer and into the back of the German net.
As the final whistle blew, the stunned silence was palpable. The Japanese are a decent side and ranked fourth in the world, but nobody had given them a chance against a two-time world champion side playing at home.
The Nationaltrainerin offered no excuses: her side simply failed to turn up. There would be no third title, and no winning farewell to what had been a truly golden German generation: perhaps one of the saddest sights was that of veteran Birgit Prinz sitting helpless on the bench as every one else was trying to get their heads around the result.