Victorious at their last three major tournaments, including two UEFA European Women's Championships and the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup, and unbeaten in 46 qualifying and finals matches in those competitions, Germany can have no other aim when they defend their global crown in China from next week than victory. However, they open the tournament against Argentina on Monday in uncertain mood.
Although they have recorded easy wins against Wales, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Denmark in recent months, other results have been troubling. They were held 0-0 by the United States, hosts China and England in a January tournament, and Silvia Neid's team finished a shocking eighth in the Algarve Cup in March, losing to Norway, France and Italy in the process. And their last game before departing for China was a 2-2 draw with Norway in which they trailed twice. "I don't know why, but we were scared," said captain Birgit Prinz, who averted defeat with her 110th international goal.
While Germany, in their first major finals since Neid replaced Tina Theune-Meyer at the helm, still contain familiar figures from glories past including Kerstin Stegemann (doubtful for the opener due to illness), Sandra Minnert, Ariane Hingst, Kerstin Garefrekes, Renate Lingor and Prinz from the 2003 World Cup final starting lineup, the last year has brought some changes, especially at the back. Not only did stalwart defender Steffi Jones retire from international football after the Algarve Cup but Silke Rottenberg, so long the automatic No1, has been relegated behind Nadine Anderer after a succession of injury problems. That Norway scored so quickly past Anderer last week was a worrying sign for Germany, who after playing Argentina meet England and Japan in the group stage and face a potential quarter-final against the likes of the United States or Sweden.
Even German Football Association president Theo Zwanziger, who has made the trip to China, would only say: "Four or five teams can become world champions, we are one of them. Going out early wouldn't harm the progress we have made over recent years." Zwanziger's body are hoping to bring the trophy to Europe in another sense as they are the only UEFA member association left in the running to host the 2011 World Cup and will discover their fate later this year.
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