Germany won a thrilling UEFA European Women's Championship final 1-0 against Sweden thanks to Claudia Müller's golden-goal winner to delight an 18,000 crowd in the Donaustadion, Ulm. It was so cruel on Sweden who had battled admirably throughout to defy the odds because not many pundits would have laid money on them taking the hosts to extra-time.
Ironically Müller, a second-half substitute, was the scorer of two goals in the opening fixture in the tournament between these sides that had then helped overturn Sweden's early advantage. But collectively, the Swedes stepped up on that performance and had chances to win in normal time but Germany were always dangerous in a game that was a terrific advertisement for women's football.
Müller's composed finish eight minutes into extra-time from Maren Meinert's pass means that Germany, winning the title for the third successive time, get to keep the trophy. It is also the fifth time in the last six championships that they have emerged on top.
After two weeks of continual sunshine the heavens decided to open on Ulm for the final and the teams emerged into torrential rain. As expected Germany had lost the services of Sandra Minnert through a thigh injury with Ariane Hingst stepping in. Incredibly all bar two of the starting eleven began the final four years ago when Italy were in opposition.
Sweden made three changes from their semi-final with Denmark, bringing in Kristin Bengtsson the San Diego Spirit defender and Victoria Svensson. For midfielder Therese Sjögran it was her first start of the tournament. There was barely a spare seat in the house as Swiss referee Nicole Petignat got the game underway and the proliferation of umbrellas added to the colourful scene. The conditions were testing for defenders though Stefanie Jones was sure of her footing as she tidied up Sweden's first attack with Hanna Ljungberg threatening. Hanna Marklund had more difficulty at the other end and after giving the ball away she had to move fast to shepherd Birgit Prinz out of harm's way.
Marklund was uncertain again when a free-kick dipped dangerously into the heart of the Swedish defence and this time Sandra Smisek was unlucky to find her toe-poke slipping just wide of the target. However the plaudits went Marklund's way in the ninth minute as she stopped a strong Smisek surge after Maren Meinert and Prinz had combined fluently. Sweden were tenacious as they attempted to hustle Germany out of possession and the home crowd were forced to show patience. In midfield Malin Andersson and Malin Moström were giving as good as they got against the illustrious central trio in white but in difficult conditions, at the end of an arduous fortnight, you wondered for how long they could keep it up.
Jönsson on hand
Certainly there was nothing to suggest Sweden were inhibited by Germany's run of four wins and only the one goal conceded on their way to this showdown. They had to be grateful for goalkeeper Caroline Jönsson's safe hands as Jones slid in to try and finish off a move begun by Bettina Wiegmann and carried on by Meinert. Sweden hit back and after a forceful individual run Moström's shot demanded a stretching save from Silke Rottenberg. Shortly after Sjögran found herself with a good sight of goal but the angle was too tight. A Prinz run which almost found a colleague on the end of her pass brought the first-half to a close.
The Swedes had succeeded in dampening down the passion of the local support and as the game wore on they visibly grew more confident. Germany were not used to having to work so hard for the ball and their passing was not nearly as crisp as in previous games. In the 52nd minute Svensson clipped the top of the bar but only after she had strayed offside. By now Sweden were looking the more likely winners and Moström was frustrated when Doris Fitschen was in the way of a goalbound shot.
The introduction of Müller then swung the balance back Germany's way. She did well to get in a header that Jönsson saved comfortably but was then left open-mouthed as the 'keeper somehow blocked her close-in effort after Bettina Wiegmann had released Kerstin Stegemann down the right. Jönsson's save from Pia Wunderlich in the 78th minute was equally stunning. The ball was not cleared adequately and when Renate Lingor drove in a lob this time the upright came to Sweden's rescue. At the end of a thrilling second half it was Sweden's turn to come close, Svensson drawing a tip-over save from Rottenberg.
Player of the match: Steffi Jones (Germany)
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