This article is part of the Guardian’s Women’s Euro 2022 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 16 countries who have qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 6 July.
No one really knows what to make of this Germany team any more. They probably don’t even know themselves. They won Olympic gold in 2016 but were eliminated in the quarter-finals at the 2017 Euros and the 2019 World Cup. They cruised the qualifying campaign for this tournament, winning all seven games, but they were against weaker opposition. They know they are no longer automatically among the favourites. “But that can also lead to a few teams underestimating us,” says the national team coach, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.
The defence, so often one of Germany’s strengths, is this time a cause for concern especially as Marina Hegering has not been fit. Recently Germany lost a World Cup qualifier in Serbia, which shocked even Voss-Tecklenburg. There were mitigating circumstances: many players were injured, some had Covid and the manager had spared some of the players who had gone far with Wolfsburg and Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Still, the defeat hurt, and the coaching staff know they are not where they want to be.
Germany are in a tough group with the Euro 2017 runners-up Denmark and favourites Spain, as well as Finland. The question is whether this thoroughly talented team has what it takes to compete at the highest level. Two experienced midfielders, Dzsenifer Marozsán (injured) and Melanie Leupolz (pregnant) are missing. Will enough players step up?
“We are focusing completely on the first game against Denmark,” insists Voss-Tecklenburg. Win that and they should be able to afford to lose to Spain before, hopefully, beating Finland to reach the knockout stages. The first game is key.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburghad a great career as a player, winning no fewer than four European Championships and being voted German player of the year twice –but is also remembered for an own goal in a Cup final in 2003. Afterwards, she said: “It’s better that it happened to me than to one of our young players.” That earned her a lot of respect and she has kept that reputation intact as a coach. She took Switzerland to the World Cup and European Championships for the first time, and has been Germany coach since 2018. The 54-year-old’s position is still strong but things did not work out at the 2019 World Cup and they missed the Olympics because of it. Another setback here would damage even her reputation.
Sara Däbritz. At the DFB, they say Däbritz was such a great talent that she simply could not be overlooked. She has always been one of the most skilful players in Germany but has also matured as a leader since moving to France and PSG in 2019. This summer, having agreed a move to Lyon, she has to also be a leader for Germanywith Marozsán and Leupolz missing. She is only 27 years old, but one of the few players in the Germany squad who won the Euros in 2013. Despite her domestic success in France, Däbritz is still extremely down-to-earth. “Whenever I’m back at home, I still want dumplings with some kind of roast,” she says.
Lena Oberdorf. Three years ago, aged 17, she beat Birgit Prinz’s record as Germany’s youngest-ever player at a World Cup. Three years later, she is part of the backbone of this Germany team’s midfield. Oberdorf always makes her presence known out on the pitch, whether with Wolfsburg or the national side. You may not notice her perfectly weighed passes all the time, but you will see when she launches into one of her feisty tackles. Oberdorf is not like other 20-year-olds, who prefer to say nothing on the pitch. She talks all the time, telling others what to do. Her national teammates already call her “leader,” and she appears destined for the captaincy.
Anyone who doesn’t name Prinz here has discredited themselves for ever. Almost everyone in Germany knows who she is, even though she played at a time when women’s football was only watched by a few. But they all know she was a fast, assertive striker with an incredible ability to score. She scored 128 goals in 214 caps and was world footballer of the year in 2003, 2004 and 2005. There was only one thing she could not or would not do: give interviews. As a player she had no desire for any publicity – and now even less. Yet many are interested in her again because she is part of the Germany setup for the Euros as the team psychologist. “Everyone can benefit from how she conducts herself and her experience,” says Voss-Tecklenburg.
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“In the battle for the ball, feminine grace disappears; and body and soul inevitably suffer damage,” wrote the men from the German FA when they banned women’s football in 1955. The ban was lifted in 1970 but it was not until 1982 they played their first international game. And you know what? They turned out to be quite good at it. They used to be a shoo-in to win the European Championships even before the tournament had started, securing eight of the nine titles on offer between 1989 and 2013. Things have changed but at least they know it will take at least another six tournaments before anyone can equal their eight triumphs.
Realistic aim this summer
Germany are still among the favourites, but not at the top of the bracket this time. In a tough group with Spain and Denmark, most fans would be happy with a place in the quarter-finals. There, Germany could play England, where they would be the underdogs.