Before last night it had been 12 days short of exactly 20 years since Germany last lost a game in the Women’s European Championship. Twelve days short of 20 years since Denmark beat them in the third place play-off in Rimini. That’s a hell of a run, so one can understand a certain amount of consternation at the fact that Germany have got to go into the quarter finals of this year’s tournament as second in their group having just lost 1-0 to Norway. Germany has won every European Championship since 1993, and they also won the two before that. As the national trainer, Silvia Neid, picks out her array of suits with creases so sharp you could use them to cut diamonds with, she does not do so with the idea that they could actually lose.
But, for sure, it will raise a smile to the cantankerous old lips of Bernd Schröder, the manager of Turbine Potsdam who one can imagine smashing plates with Silvia Neid’s face on for fun when he’s not in the press whinging about how she only picks her favourite players from her favourite clubs, and that she is everything that is wrong with the national set-up. Of course he may have a point, but it happens so often now it is a surprise the press bother printing his rants at all. One day he’ll be really complimentary about the Doyenne of German football and the world will fall off its axis. It would be the sporting scoop equivalent of Bild announcing on their front cover “Bushido to rap with Merkel about kittens”.
The serial winning of the German national team in the Euros is a habit well formed, but the shock of last year’s semifinal exit in the World Cup hasn’t created the shake-up that maybe the team needed. There is a sense that they have rested on their laurels as the rest of the world has been catching up. After all, in large parts of the civilised world, the women’s game is being taken increasingly seriously. They still have a way to go in many cases though. The English coach, Hope Powell, was mentioned in at least one report of their last match against Russia, exhorting her team to “Just hit it up there,” the footballing equivalent of trying to get a chicken to try and calculate the highest possible prime number. Feathers may well fly, but the end result will always be somewhat lacking.
At least here though the Women’s EM is taken with a modicum of seriousness, whereas in England it is seen more as a backwater, a blind alley, a Croydon next to the Vegas of the premier league and all of its glistening, neon-lit pomposity. A casual reading of football forums in the home of football will easily tell you that the simple problem is just that “birds just don’t play football well, innit”. Germany’s first match, a 0-0 draw with Holland, attracted a TV audience of over six million viewers, a number that will be beaten when they meet Italy in the quarter final on Sunday evening. If they can barge their way through the surely massed ranks of blue clad defenders in a way that they so failed to do against Norway then those figures will grow like a sprinters thighs after a quick hop to the doctors.
After all, 20 years is a long time. Back then Germany was a new country, Neid was a player, Bushido was jabbering away about shooting politicians and TV comedians in his short trousers whilst bunking off school and Schröder was, well, he was manager of Turbine Potsdam. If the problem with Jogi Löw’s Nationalmannschaft that they have got too used to coming close to that big win but falling just short at the last, then Neid’s problem is that they are just too used to winning. Maybe the loss against Norway is exactly what they needed to get back to proving Schröder wrong.