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By ESPN Staff

Germany seeking second straight title

FRANKFURT, Germany -- When Germany's women played their first international soccer game 25 years ago, school kids were bused in to fill the stands and the public was at best bemused by the sight.

Nobody is laughing now. Germany is the reigning world and European champion, the games are broadcast live on national television, the stadiums are full and the women command as much respect as their male colleagues.

The tone was set in that first game, when women's games lasted 80 minutes, 10 minutes shorter than men's, with Germany beating Switzerland 5-1 in Koblenz.

"It was a surprisingly good game," recalled Gero Bisanz, who was talked into being the first women's coach although he didn't really want the job. One columnist even compared one of Germany's players (Birgit Bormann) to star winger Pierre Littbarski.

The present team has a direct link to that group of pioneers -- current coach Silvia Neid was an 18-year-old player then and came off the bench to score two goals.

"Those players made it possible for women's soccer to enjoy so much respect now," Neid said ahead of celebrations to mark the event in August.

Germany's women quickly developed into a world power along the lines of the men, who have three World Cup titles. A professional league has been running since 2001.

Ranked No. 2 behind the United States in the latest FIFA rankings, Germany has six European titles and two Olympic bronze medals since the modest beginnings a quarter century ago.

The biggest success came four years ago when Germany's women won their first World Cup title. At this year's tournament, Germany could make it two in a row, and then go after a trio in 2011 at home.

After staging a hugely successful men's World Cup in 2006, Germany is bidding for the next women's tournament in 2011.

The Germans, in Group A with Argentina, Japan and England, are also eager to wipe out the blot of finishing only eighth in this summer's Algarve Cup in Portugal, a prestigious tournament that draws the best teams in the world.

Germany's top star is forward Birgit Prinz, twice FIFA's player of the year and the German captain, with nearly 170 caps and more than 100 goals.

Sandra Smisek, who is a teammate on the FFC Frankfurt team, also has more than 100 appearances.

"I think we have a very good balance between young and older players," Neid said. "For each position there are at least two players, because we have many players who are very versatile."

While the lanky Prinz often acts as anchor in the attack, she can move laterally and run down the wings, opening space for other players.

"Our game plans call for a lot of rotation up front," Neid said. "My players are so schooled that they can play any position in the attack."

In the midfield, Neid can count on the experience of Renate Lingor and Kerstin Garefrekes, who have more than 200 appearances between them.

Then there is the 19-year-old Fatmire Bajramaj, who caught attention with deft moves in recent games.

"We have a lot of possibilities in midfield as far as the lineup is concerned," Neid said. "We have players with intelligence, with skill and with a lot of offensive potential."

And a lot of solidarity in defense.

Ariane Hingst, Sandra Minnert and Kerstin Stegemann bring the experience of nearly 450 international games between them.

"You can really depend on those three. They bring so much routine, they always know what to expect," Neid said.

In goal, Neid has decided to go with Nadine Angerer, 28, rather than with 35-year-old Silke Rottenberg, who has three times as many appearances at 123. But Rottenberg, the winning keeper in the 2003 World Cup, has battled injuries this year.

"We have great players in this position as well," Neid said. "We have two world-class goalkeepers who would be the envy of many other nations.

"I am firmly convinced that we are going to the World Cup with the best possible roster that gives us a lot of variation possibilities, and with top-fit and highly motivated players."