By Pete Sanderson at Ewood Park
As it was at the beginning, so it shall be in the end. That was the fitting climax for the finalists of UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™, just as it had been for the men one year previously in Portugal, as Germany overcame a Norway side they had defeated in their opening match eleven days earlier.
But if 2004 was the year of the improbables, 2005 was more about the invincibles as Germany swept aside all before them. Outsiders Finland had threatened to seize the baton from Greece in the 'minnows-take-all stakes' before eventually being overrun in the last four by a formidable German outfit.
The carnival began hours before kick-off, with fans from Oslo to Berlin and Warrington to Blackpool descending on Blackburn in their thousands to make the most of the searing Lancashire heat. As the teams arrived, the crowd were treated to a colourful closing ceremony, with some local children performing the 'Euro Haka' in the colours of the eight nations who had played their part in an enthralling fortnight of football.
Had the match been an hour later, perhaps a rain dance would have been more appropriate as the clear skies blackened and the heavens opened with the game less than 30 minutes old. It was clear from the off that, with both sides employing attacking formations, this would be a fascinating tactical tussle with goals very much the order of the day. There were also plenty of subplots developing, none more tasty than the duel between Germany striker Birgit Prinz and Norwegian goalkeeper Bente Nordby.
Over the years, these two international stalwarts have enjoyed some epic confrontations, stretching back to when they first locked horns back in the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup final. On the eleven previous occasions they have met, Prinz has struck five goals, with Nordby keeping seven clean sheets. It was Prinz who fired the first blow today, her looping shot forcing Nordby to back pedal - to the relief of the keeper and her army of 200 fans who had followed her from Warrington, the ball sailed over the bar.
As if the competition was not fierce enough, the two exchanged a heated debate at the next corner which Nordby calmly plucked from the Lancashire sky. The next saw the custodian brilliantly tip over a shot from Prinz, only for Germany to score through Anja Mittag and Renate Lingor on their next two attacks.
Nordby finally had something else to shout about in the 41st minute when Mellgren hauled Norway back into contention with a well-taken strike. However, it seemed only a matter of time before Prinz again took centre stage. Sure enough, her moment arrived in the 63rd minute when she struck the goal which effectively handed the trophy to Germany, sending a deflected shot from range beyond the helpless Nordby.
It was Prinz's sixth goal past Nordby and one of the most important of a glittering career which has seen her win four European finals and score in three. But on 80 minutes Nordby ended the personal contest on a personal high, pushing Prinz's goalbound effort wide of the post, but it was the German captain's day as she collected her fourth consecutive trophy. Nordby, meanwhile, had to be content with the red carpet treatment from her loyal band of fans.
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