Last year was not a vintage one for Germany after so long as the dominant force in women's football, but the fightback has already begun and Spain's visit to Mannheim on Saturday could confirm that.
After losing their hold on the FIFA Women's World Cup – on home soil – to Japan in the quarter-finals in the summer, leaving them out of the Olympics to boot, Germany then saw their 12-year perfect qualifying run ended with a last-gasp 2-2 draw in Spain last November. But 2012 started with a 5-0 victory in Turkey to move Germany level with Spain at the top of UEFA Women's EURO 2013 qualifying Group 2, and then earlier this month they won the Algarve Cup, beating Japan 4-3 in the final.
Three points against Spain at the weekend, then more in Switzerland next Thursday, would leave Germany – missing suspended defender Saskia Bartusiak – with one foot in Sweden. Confidence is high according to Fatmire Bajramaj and Alexandra Popp. "
I am convinced that if we perform well and give 100%, it shouldn't be a problem to qualify," Bajramaj told UEFA.com.
Popp added: "Well, we go into every match with the right determination and concentration. It doesn't matter whether it's Spain or whoever, we always have to be focused on the pitch, we have to play good passing football, and if we do then I hope Spain will leave the pitch as the losers. We know we have it in our hands, we know we are a team that play some great football when we are focused and play well together."
Germany seemed to have the away game against Spain in their control when 2-0 up and Bajramaj reflected on what happened next. "The two goals, one came from a corner and the other from a free-kick," the 1. FFC Frankfurt forward said. "We were not focused enough, and we let go a bit. Spain pressed us more and more. They believed strongly that they would score the first and second goals, and they did. We were not focused enough in the last ten minutes."
Nor was it Germany's only setback last year, and FCR 2001 Duisburg striker Popp admitted: "
We experienced on the pitch how it is to be beaten; it's not often been the case that a German team has lost, but now we know how to deal with a defeat at a big tournament. We are continuing to improve, especially working on our weaknesses and staying focused until the very end of a match.
"And off the pitch, we have learned how to deal with all the press and media attention. We weren't really prepared for all the hustle and bustle; we knew there would be a lot of media interest, but in the event it really was a lot, which scared us a bit at the beginning. I think now we can deal with that in a better way."
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