To paraphrase Elvis Costello only slightly, the 2011 Women's World Cup was supposed to be "All this, but no surprises for this year's girls."
Germany was the host country. Germany had won the last two World Cups, in 2007 by not giving up a single goal. The Germans had players on their bench that would start for any other team in the world.
Japan was a challenge, but by no means an insurmountable one. It was the classic sports match-up, the big and strong German side versus the small and quick Japanese. It's always intriguing, but the smart money was all over Germany.
At the end of 90 minutes, it was still 0-0. The Germans had some bad luck when midfielder Kim Kulig fell awkwardly in the 8th minute and had to be replaced, but the big surprise was when Silvia Neid made her last substitution, it was clear that both veteran Birgit Prinz, the top goal scorer in Women's World Cup history, and Fatmire Bajramaj, the young face of German women's football, would not be used at all in this crucial game.
(Photo by Johannes Eisele, AFP)
It was still a scoreless draw after the first fifteen minutes of extra time, but in the 108th minute, the Japanese star Homare Sawa sent a perfect pass to a speeding Karina Maruyama, who put a tricky far post shot past the German goalie Angerer, who was naturally guarding the near post. This picture by Johannes Eisele captures the moment perfectly.
The emotions of the women's game are very different from the men's. There were German players weeping bitter tears and Japanese women weeping tears of joy for one the greatest successes in Japanese sports history.
The smart money said the Germans would win this thing. Pressed for a second choice, they thought the Americans had a chance, maybe the Brazilians if their suspect defense could hold together, an unlikely event given their history. As it stands now, any team that is still lacing up their boots as of today could be this year's champions, which includes the Yanks and the Samba Queens, who will meet tomorrow afternoon Pacific time.
Congratulations to the Japanese women for a well deserved and hard fought victory.