The tournament's two most dominant squads meet in the round before the championship.
By wire services
Published October 5, 2003
PORTLAND, Ore. - The collision course the United States and Germany have been on since the start of the Women's World Cup has had an inevitable air.
Knowing they couldn't meet one another for the championship, the tournament's two most dominant teams have rampaged their way to a soccer superpower clash tonight that's being regarded as a final within a semifinal.
It's the first game of a Pacific Northwest twilight doubleheader, arranged to suit Eastern prime time TV demands. That will be followed by upstart Canada, an upset winner over China, facing Sweden.
"We're going to play like it's (a World Cup final) because if we lose, it is going to be our final," U.S. and former Atlanta Beat goalkeeper Briana Scurry said.
"I think it's not fair to the other teams to say that this is the final," said German forward Birgit Prinz, who leads the Cup with six goals. "For us, it's a great game."
While the Americans are used to such pressure-packed events, a matchup of this magnitude is relatively rare for Germany, which won the 2001 European championship but never has reached the finals of a World Cup or Olympics.
"The U.S. looks unstoppable, but if there's a team that can stop their bid to repeat, it's Germany," said ex-Atlanta Beat coach Tom Stone, who called a German World Cup game for ESPN2. "I think the winner of this game goes on to win the World Cup."
The United States has allowed one goal in four matches. Germany has tallied a Cup record 20 goals, five per game.
"Something's going to have to give in this game," said U.S. forward Abby Wambach, who, along with Prinz, has been the tournament's most powerful attacking player.
The Germans admittedly have not been tested to the same degree as the Americans, who have downed Sweden, North Korea and Norway to get here. But the United States hasn't seen a World Cup scoring threat who compares to Prinz, the most valuable player of the WUSA's Founders Cup match won in Atlanta last year by the Carolina Courage.
"Defensively, we're going to have to be on," said U.S. central defender Joy Fawcett, who has directed a superb backline effort.
Prinz is among six Germans with WUSA experience, a factor she thinks has been important for her squad's confidence.
The United States leads the series between the teams 12-3-2.
"In earlier games, we were frightened of the U.S.," Prinz said. "It was, "Oh my God, we're playing the Americans.' But we know now that they are not better than we are."
ONE MORE COMEBACK: Maren Meinert grew up in a family of men, the daughter of a minor-league goalkeeper, watching German soccer Saturday afternoons, playing in the yard on Sundays. The sport got a grip on her that will not let go. She has made more comebacks than Simon and Garfunkel.
Throughout the Women's United Soccer Association season, Meinert insisted she wouldn't play for Germany in the World Cup.
She had retired from the national team last year. It might be awkward to return, unfair to those who had competed without her.
At 30, Meinert was ready to end her career.
While she played with Boston in the WUSA, her husband lived an ocean away. She wanted to coach children, open Germany's first girls soccer camp. But she could not walk away. The WUSA's most valuable player is a forward and midfielder who's considered the world's best. The urge to play in a final World Cup kept creeping into her head. After speaking with her husband, Meinert changed her mind. Germany welcomed her back, and her presence has made it perhaps the tournament's most impressive team.
Through four games, the German's have 20 goals and surrendered three. Meinert leads the Cup with six assists and has scored twice.
"She's the best I ever played with," said Norway forward Dagny Mellgren, Meinert's teammate in Boston, who was the WUSA's leading career scorer. Kristine Lilly, the U.S. midfielder who played with Meinert in Boston, said: "You can tell she grew up with the game. She's so smart on the ball. She sees runs a lot of people don't see."