By Pete Sanderson at Deepdale
Two opportunist goals from Inka Grings sealed Germany's place in the UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ final in a pulsating encounter in Preston which finally brought the curtain down on Finland's impressive campaign.
The defending champions raced into a three-goal lead in an extraordinary opening period. Grings set the ball rolling, converting a third-minute pass from Anja Mittag before Conny Pohlers doubled their advantage following a defensive mix-up. Goalkeeper Satu Kunnas was soon picking the ball out of the net again as Grings added a third with just 12 minutes played. Although Minna Mustonen raised hopes of a Finnish revival in the 15th minute, Birgit Prinz put the game beyond doubt with a fine solo effort to secure Germany's place in their fourth consecutive European Championship final.
Finland coach Michael Käld made one change from their victory over Denmark, drafting in Mustonen for right-winger Jessica Thorn to add extra steel to their midfield. Germany's Tina Theune-Meyer also tweaked the eleven which so comprehensively ended France's dream in their final group game, preferring Britta Carlson to Navina Omilade, a move which allowed Grings to play in a more advanced role.
If Finland were to overcome this formidable German outfit, it was crucial they stamped their class on the game from the first whistle. But the German juggernaut proved unstoppable as the players used all their experience, in what was their seventh consecutive semi-final, to power into a third-minute lead.
Stephanie Jones's clever reverse ball found Mittag, who set off on one of the marauding runs for which she has become renowned throughout this tournament. With the Finnish defence standing at ease, the young forward slipped a sublime pass to the onrushing Grings, who clinically dispatched the ball beyond Kunnas.
If Germany's first goal was a wake-up call for the Finns, their second was a killer blow. The opportunity once again transpired from a classic Germany move, the ball eventually being threaded into the path of Kerstin Garefrekes. The full-back's cross took a cruel deflection off two Finnish defenders before being spilled by Kunnas and, with the goal at her mercy, Pohlers made no mistake.
The Finns were in disarray and two soon became three thanks to another piece of opportunism from Grings. This time the instigator was Renate Lingor, whose cross from the left caused pandemonium in the Finnish box, allowing Grings to sweep the ball in from 18 metres.
It was a devastating blow to Finland's hopes of their dream all-Scandinavian final but, instead of wallowing in self-pity, they set about reviving such fantasies and just two minutes later they had reduced the arrears. Mäkinen swung a dangerous left-wing corner to the near post and, with Silke Rottenberg hesitating, Mustonen coolly chested the ball into her near post to breach the German defence for the first time in the competition.
The goal sparked the Finns into life and Valkonen was unlucky not to claw the German's advantage back to just a single goal moments before half-time but her shot from the edge of the area was superbly saved by Rottenberg.
Germany began the second half with the same style and panache with which they began the first and it seemed inevitable they would grab a fourth. Grings was unfortunate not to complete her hat-trick in 54th minute but it was Prinz who enjoyed the final word, deceiving two defenders before finishing in style.