Germany faces role reversal in final
CARSON, Calif. -- Legendary striker Juergen Klinsmann stopped by Germany's morning practice to wish coach Tina Theune-Meyer and her squad well in the Women's World Cup final against Sweden this Sunday.
A few German players proudly reported that "about a million people" watched their 3-0 upset win over the U.S. last Sunday despite the fact that it was played at 1:30 in the morning.
The best player in the world plays for its undefeated side going for its first world title.
The team has the leading scorer in the entire tournament.
Journalists from everywhere crowded around stars such as Birgit Prinz, Maren Meinert and Silke Rottenberg, while Galaxy players such as Carlos Ruiz and Cobi Jones, as well as 14-year-old wunderkind Freddy Adu, stood by without having to stave off any attention.
Needless to say, women's soccer in Germany has arrived.
This is no upstart, either. It's a world power that -- all of a sudden -- finds itself as the favorite going into the World Cup final.
"It's like a dream come true," says Meinert, who has been dazzling through five games with three goals and seven assists as the player who pulls all the strings for Germany. "Going to the semifinal means that we are in the Olympics. Then we had the big game against the USA, in their country, and we beat them 3-0 that meant we went to the final. So everybody is proud.
"In Germany, people are recognizing women's soccer now."
They better be. This side has a much better chance of bringing home a world championship trophy than the men's team did going into its World Cup final against Brazil last summer. The only thing standing in its way, besides the Swedes, is the letdown factor that could exist after winning such an epic game over the host country and pre-Cup favorite. We see this in other sports all the time in tournament play.
When the U.S. men's hockey team beat the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics, it had to come back and beat Finland to win the gold medal. When Duke knocked off UNLV in the 1990 NCAA Tournament semifinals, the squad had to put the big win out of its mind two days later when it faced Kansas for the national title, which the Blue Devils ultimately won.
If the game was played right now, Germany might not be able to get the U.S. hangover out of its system.
"We'll find out within the next two days," says Meinert, "because right now we are kind of (thinking), 'OK, we beat the USA, so we are almost the winners of the World Cup."
That mindset needs to change, obviously. This time around, there will be pressure to win, as well, as Germany is now expected to do so.
"Against the USA, we had nothing to lose," says Bettina Wiegmann, who is playing in her fourth World Cup. "We could go out there and play however we wanted because of that. Now we're the favorite for the final game, so it's a tough game for us, especially against Sweden since we know them well."
Most recently, Germany lost to Sweden in the Algarve Cup in Portugal last March. But the last truly meaningful match came in July of 2001 when Germany downed the Swedes 1-0 on a Golden Goal to win its fifth European Championship.
Over the past few years, Sweden's side has been galvanized by the play of Hanna Ljungberg, who has quickly become one of the top strikers in the world at 23 years old. But, then again, Germany has had four of its major players playing in the WUSA -- Meinert and Prinz being its main contributions to the league -- which has helped to improve their side immensely.
"We're two years older with two years more experience," says Meinert. "We're better."
The interesting part of this match is that Germany wanted to play Sweden -- not Canada -- in this game, even though it beat the Canadians 4-1 in group play. Theune-Meyer and several of the players mentioned an "all European" final as being a big deal to their region of the world, while others enjoy playing against a team that is skillful with an attacking mindset as Sweden is.
"Whenever I watch Sweden play, I think they play like us," says Meinert. "So I love to watch them play."
Meinert also thinks its some sort of destiny that the two European rivals are facing each other with everything on the line.
"I always said that when we are in the final, Sweden would be there," she says.
The 31-year-old striker probably, subconsciously, has had that seed planted from her former Boston Breakers coach Pia Sundhage, who is the greatest Swedish player of all-time and a consultant of sorts to the current side.
Says Meinert: "I'm a little nervous that she'll find a way to stop me."
Fat chance. The U.S. couldn't do it. Neither could the three teams Germany steamrolled over in group play. Same goes for Prinz, who isn't satisfied with her play in this tournament despite leading all scorers with seven goals and four assists.
"When I see how many shots I missed," says the 25-year-old striker. "I am surprised to see myself at the top of the scoring leaders."
And if there's anyone that Theune-Meyer doesn't have to worry about showing up for Sunday's game in the wake of the U.S. victory, it's Prinz. Sometimes, after a loss, she won't talk to people for days.
"I hate to lose," she says. "I'm too competitive sometimes. When I play hearts, I hate to lose, too."
The Germans will need to have that type of mentality against a Swedish team that has the talent to play with them, as well as the momentum after reeling off four straight wins after losing to the U.S. in their opener.
"When you don't go and play the game like we did against the USA," explains Meinert, "we won't win the Cup."
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at: email@example.com.