Sports FOOTBALL England and Germany to show 13-year progress in Euro...

England and Germany to show 13-year progress in Euro final

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OOn Sunday, the Helsinki Olympic Stadium will be felt in several dimensions. It was there in 2009 that England and Germany met for the first time in the final of the European Women’s Championship. On paper it might have looked like a clash of titans, but England had yet to reach it: Germany started as overwhelming favorites and duly beat Hope Powell’s side 6-2, reasserting themselves as continental heavyweights. Birgit Prinz and company held a master class, but only 15,000 people were present at the legendary place to witness it.

When England beat a weakened German team 3-1 this year at Molineux in February, it was only the second time the lionesses have played the match. It says nothing about how the gap closed. What shows more is the fact that, as often as the 2022 finale plays out in your head, it seems impossible to pick a clear winner. The result could very well be razor sharp, and with an audience six times the size of the crowd that rumbled around in Finland, the atmosphere should ensure that this is the case.

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“A once-in-a-lifetime experience,” was how Germany’s superb goalkeeper Merle Froms described the prospect of Sunday. “You couldn’t ask for a better final to face the host country in their own stadium.” The organizers will also pinch themselves. You can’t say otherwise: this is a classic finale, an event whose history needs no explanation, but which is quite capable of standing on its own feet, if measured by skill, courage and pure sportsmanship.

Another four-goal lead seems unthinkable for either side, although both sides have ignored such predictions over the past three weeks. England were expected to run into trouble against Norway, but went home with stunning ease and tenacity; They then crushed Sweden despite some good luck in the first half.

Germany, having gone to great lengths to present itself as a dark horse ahead of the tournament, showed up at Brentford and quickly thrashed much-beloved Denmark 4-0. That’s what these teams are capable of: they can outsmart, outplay and, in the end, crush. When they meet each other, all bets will be cancelled.

“Resolute, modest, successful” – this is how the German newspaper Zeit described Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s team after the victory over France. The words are apt: there is a humbleness to Germany’s work, an ability to balance flair and fastidiousness, which is perhaps best illustrated by the perfectly reasonable argument that their best player this season was 20-year-old defensive midfielder Lena Oberdorf.

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As in England, they remained fair throughout their furious game ahead. While the hosts came out minutes after being eliminated in the quarter-finals before salvaging what was a sluggish performance against Spain, Die Nationalelf has at times saddled their luck when they faced Austria in their last eight matches and could fall out against France on Wednesday before Winner Alexandra Popp. Both finalists knew what it meant to purr during games and admire each other’s talents, but both have reason to feel battle-hardened.

If anything should make the Germans particularly uncomfortable, it’s England’s ability to get stronger over time, spurred on by the many options Sarina Wigman can use from the bench. France and Austria languished in the last stages of their knockout matches, even as the former fired balls into Frome’s box to the end; England are unlikely to leave, and the harshness of Alessia Russo or Ella Thun off the bench is something that Germany has not yet had to contend with.

On the other hand, Popp, who for many viewers would have been the player of the tournament both because of her strength and the sheer romance of her return from a career-threatening injury, started the group stage with the substitutes and arguably competed for as much game time had Lea Schuller not tested positive for Covid-19 after playing in Denmark.

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Similarly, Germany didn’t miss the equally ailing Clara Buhl, the top winger of the pleasant number this summer, too much against France, although her absence also forced Svenja Hut to switch positions. Schuller and Buehl may be ready to play their part in the finale. The fact is that depth and flexibility are important for both England and Germany, as well as what happens from the very beginning: it would not be outlandish to assume that the most significant events at Wembley will be determined by decisions made after the break.

“We are happy with what we have achieved, but we are not satisfied with what we have achieved,” Powell said after realizing the defeat 13 years ago. “Next time it will make them stronger, and one day it will be our day.”

It looks like a safe bet right now and England’s job is to make sure the moment comes on an evening that showcases their sport like never before. Pubs will be busy, big screens will be installed, the squares may even fill up. If England and Germany show something similar to the spectacle that both sides promised, the progress of women’s football and this tournament after Helsinki will hardly become more obvious.

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