Germany 1 – 0 Norway
As Benjamin Franklin probably didn’t say, in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death, taxes and a German team winning the European Championships. In a tournament where the shocks began early and continued right through until the final, certain points of intransigence cannot be overturned, even with the gift of two penalties.
Yesterday afternoon may not have given Euro 2013 the final it was expecting, but it gave it a final to be proud of. In front of a crowd who proved major final atmosphere doesn’t only come with the presence of a home representative, pre-tournament favourites Germany lifted the European Championship trophy for an astonishing sixth consecutive occasion, a feat made all the more remarkable for the absence of at least six players through injury that would have been expected to feature heavily throughout the tournament.
In many ways, this was one of Germany’s more impressive tournament victories, achieved through a combination of temperament, skill and no little fighting resolve. Having tasted defeat against final opponents Norway in the group stages, the holders’ first European Championship loss in an astonishing 20 years and withheld a veritable siege from hosts Sweden in the semi-finals, Germany demonstrated something that few have ever been able to test: the ability to respond to significant pressure.
For fellow-finalists Norway, this tournament was something rather different. For a nation which had tasted the very heights of success in the late 90s and early 2000s, the last few years have been rather less productive, with defeats in the qualifying stages to Iceland and Northern Ireland seriously threatening their appearance at these finals. The return of Even Pellerud ahead of the tournament, however, put in place the building blocks towards a redemptive final appearance in which a touch more composure from the penalty spot might have added so much more.
As it was, a single goal proved enough to separate the two sides, Silvia Neid’s Germany side striking in the 49th minute, Anja Mittag stroking the ball home after an excellent, pace-filled break afforded Celia Okoyino da Mbabi space to centre from the left wing. By that point, Germany’s ‘keeper Nadine Angerer had already kept the scores level, saving Trine Ronning’s penalty with her knee after the Norweigan’s mid-struck penalty had seemed to send Angerer the wrong way.
Shortly after falling behind, Norway had another chance to level from the spot, this time Angerer keeping out Solveig Gulbrandsen’s penalty after Caroline Hansen was brought down. German resolve continued to hold and, despite a disallowed equaliser with Ada Hegerberg correctly adjudged offside, the favourites held on to claim a famous victory.
In a very real sense, this has been a tournament in which one of women’s football’s greatest criticisms was finally met. Yes, there were some noteworthy errors, but in Russian ‘keeper Elvira Todua (who almost didn’t make the tournament through injury) and German veteran and soon-to-be Brisbane Roar number 1 Angerer, goalkeepers in the women’s game finally emerged as match winners, rather than easy targets for doubters of the sport’s pedigree. Indeed, in Germany’s case, Angerer was rather more than simply a match winner, her two penalty saves (the first, a stunning, desperate stop) proving the difference between Germany and surprise finalists Norway.
It was also a tournament of surprises; a tournament of an increasingly level field; a tournament where nations that have stood still in the 4 years since the 2009 Euros were shown in brutal terms just how much the old adage of standing still equating moving backwards rings true. Chief amongst those to suffer was an England side, embarrassed and deservedly sent packing with a single point in the group stages. Elsewhere, Spain, Russia and Denmark all demonstrated reasons to acknowledge their pedigree as the next World Cup cycle beings to ramp up.
In the negative column, this was yet another tournament where eminently questionable officiating tarnished far too many matches. While the quality of global refereeing is evidently improving, a series of puzzling decisions throughout the tournament left more than one spectator questioning the impact of contentious refereeing on the sport as a whole. Equally, although vaguely intriguing for its sheer novelty, the coin toss that saw Russia eliminated at the Group Stages in competition with Denmark was an act of randomness that was both distressingly harsh on a Russian side who have improved exponentially in the last four years and an embarrassment for the game itself.
Yet Euro 2013 has been overwhelmingly positive, and it is this positivity that deserves to be remembered. As such, one thing deserves mention above all others. In its potential for a long-term, positive impact on women’s sport, the sterling work of the BBC, fronted by Jacqui Oatley, Sue Smith, Faye White and Michael Gray has been a revelation. Never before has women’s football enjoyed such a high-profile image in the public eye and, yes, while England may have disappointed, the football itself didn’t. The BBC are to be applauded. So, from The Sportist: thank you. It’s been an awful lot of fun.
Image from bbc.co.uk – thank you!