A supremely relaxed Silvia Neid explained that her Germany team "must play better" if they are to claim a sixth consecutive UEFA Women's EURO title on Sunday, the holders having lost to final rivals Norway during the group stage.
Germany succumbed 1-0 to Even Pellerud's impressively resilient side to finish runners-up in Group B, and Neid emphasised how important it will be "not to concede first against them" at the Friends Arena in Solna.
"They have an intelligent game," explained Neid, while opposite number Even Pellerud – who coached Norway to victory against Germany in the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup final down the road at the old Råsundastadion – said the match will be "almost like playing against good friends". He nevertheless urged his charges to beware Neid's attacking players if they hope to beat them again.
Silvia Neid, Germany coach
The two finalists deserve to be there and in Norway we meet a compact, robust team that can play all over the pitch. They are versatile; they can defend quite deep but also play higher on the field. They have an intelligent game. It will be a question of who is better on the day.
Norway have different styles of playing. We must be patient and it's important not to concede first against them as, if they take the lead, they will play with two banks of four within 30m of goal. We must be patient but we must keep up the pace and, the longer it is goalless, the more they too will open up a bit and play with their strong forwards. They have dangerous forwards, like Sweden have dangerous forwards, so we must be aware of that.
I have very profound memories of the [1995 FIFA Women's World Cup final]. We lost 2-0 to Norway and I was a player and I messed it up, in a way. I had a chance to score a goal but I passed to Sandra Smisek and she missed. Like now, Even Pellerud was Norway coach; he definitely has good memories. Fortunately I'm no longer a player, I can't mess up – we have strikers who do things better these days.
The fact that fewer goals have been scored in the tournament demonstrates the strong development tactically, physically and technically. As much as men's football has developed in the last 18 years, women's football has developed too.
[On losing to Norway in the group stage] It's not an extra motivation we need. It just shows that the Norway players on the bench are very strong; they have a strong squad. We know tomorrow we must play better, but a final is a different situation to a group match.
Nadine [Angerer] prepared for this tournament by losing weight, 6kg. She sent out a signal to the other players about that – that they must work hard. She is a leader and made sure the young players lost their shyness when they came into the team.
• Held by a compact Dutch side in their Group B opener, Germany then looked to have clicked into gear as they dismantled Iceland in Vaxjo. However, Neid's team slipped to their first UEFA Women's EURO loss since May 1996 as they were beaten by Norway and finished section runners-up to their final group stage opponents.
Italy 0-1 Germany (Laudehr 26)
Angerer; Maier, Krahn, Bartusiak, Cramer; Kessler, Goessling; Lotzen, Mittag (Marozsán 52), Laudehr; Okoyino da Mbabi (Däbritz 68).
• The holders repeated their narrow last-eight victory against the Azzurre of four years ago, player of the match Simone Laudehr scoring with a deflected shot through a ruck of bodies following a right-wing corner.
Sweden 0-1 Germany (Marozsán 33)
Angerer; Maier, Krahn, Bartusiak, Cramer; Kessler, Goessling; Lotzen (Leupolz 78), Marozsán (Schmidt 89), Laudehr; Mittag.
• Starting in place of injured club-mate Célia Okoyino da Mbabi, Dzsenifer Marozsán settled a breathless encounter 12 minutes before the break. The hosts gave everything, particularly in the second half, but a combination of stoic Germany defending, wasteful finishing and the woodwork ensured a sixth successive final appearance for the holders.
Germany are hoping for good news on forward Célia Okoyino da Mbabi, who has a record 19 goals in this campaign including qualifying but suffered a hamstring injury in the quarter-final defeat of Italy. "Célia trained this morning and it looked quite good," said Neid. "But we have to wait for the end of this official training session [at the Friends Arena] before we can make a decision." Okoyino da Mbabi was able to complete the hour-long work-out.
Even Pellerud, Norway coach
I find it very exciting to play against Germany again for the second time in this championship, but more so because of my own long record of playing big games against Germany from the early 90s, through the 90s and up to now. They're a team we respect a lot, a team with great traditions. There's been a very tight connection between the staff of the Norwegian team and the German team for decades, so it's almost like playing against good friends tomorrow, but at kick-off we have to forget all the old times.
I've said several times in this championship that the next opponents are a formidable team, and that's been proved right. There have been fantastic, tight games from the beginning against Iceland to Denmark. But at least we can say we have got good practice and we'll need that practice tomorrow. We know Germany, we know how they play and we know their players. We have a lot of admiration for their record over the last three decades. We know it's going to be another tough game.
These girls are very fit; they've had two days to recover, but also the mentality is good. They'll do everything to get another win for Norway. I'm not concerned about their legs. It's more about us getting used to the thought of playing Germany again and hopefully beating them again – and we think that is possible.
For me as a coach, it was a really good sense of satisfaction in terms of long-term perspective [to beat Germany in the group stage], because we gave a number of players the chance to prove what they could do without having great experience in international football. These girls were thrown into deep water and they survived, and that was a good message for me and the future.
We haven't talked so much about the game plan yet, but I know that when Germany have the ball we will defend. When we have the ball, we will try to attack. But seriously, in their last game against Sweden, they were very willing to attack; they were running, sprinting, taking it to the Swedish defence. That attacking play was very impressive to watch. It will take a really good team effort to manage those attacking players because they came in waves.
• Pellerud's charges took top spot in Group B thanks to a 1-0 defeat of Germany in Kalmar. Ingvild Isaksen's goal ended the holders' 59-game unbeaten run in UEFA European Women's Championship matches. That came after a frustrating 1-1 draw with Iceland and a 1-0 success against the Netherlands, Solveig Gulbrandsen hitting the winner in her first major tournament back from retirement.
Norway 3-1 Spain (Gulbrandsen 24, Paredes 43og, Hegerberg 64; Hermoso 90+2)
Hjelmseth; Mjelde, Rønning, Christensen, Akerhaugen; Gulbrandsen, Isaksen (Dekkerhus 76), Stensland; Hansen (Ryland 81), Hegerberg (Thorsnes 71), Hegland.
• Norway reached the semi-finals courtesy of a comfortable 3-1 defeat of Spain in Kalmar, Gulbrandsen breaking the deadlock and an Irene Paredes own goal doubling their lead, before Ada Hegerberg's excellent effort put the match to bed. Jennifer Hermoso struck Spain's consolation in added time.
Norway 1-1 Denmark aet, 4-2 pens (Christensen 3; Knudsen 87)
Hjelmseth; Mjelde, Rønning, Christensen, Akerhaugen; Gulbrandsen, Isaksen (Dekkerhus 63), Stensland; Hansen (Thorsnes 58), Hegerberg, Hegland.
• Goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth was the hero for Pellerud's side in the shoot-out, saving penalties from Line Røddik and Theresa Nielsen. Norway had started strongly when Marit Christensen chested in the first corner of the match on three minutes, but Denmark fought their way back and forced extra time via Mariann Gajhede Knudsen late on. Holding their nerve from the spot, the Norwegians ultimately prevailed.
Pellerud indicated that he has no injury concerns ahead of the final, saying: "We have a good record in terms of injuries. We are relatively healthy. Yes, we are a bit tired but I'm sure we can squeeze out a little bit more tomorrow."
Germany and Norway have met in three previous UEFA European Women's Championship finals, with Germany winning all of them. They took their first continental title, as West Germany, by triumphing 4-1 in Osnabruck in 1989, before Silvia Neid's goal decided the 1991 showpiece against a Norway team coached by Pellerud. They then downed their old rivals 3-1 in Blackburn to win UEFA Women's EURO 2005.
Did you know?
Norway's group stage victory against Neid's team ended Germany's 59-game unbeaten run in UEFA European Women's Championship fixtures, a sequence that included 53 wins and six draws. The last side to have defeated them before that was Norway as well, the Scandinavians winning 3-1 on German soil in a qualifier on 2 May 1996.
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