Two years ago, Melanie Leupolz watched on as Germany exited the FIFA Women's World Cup. Now she plans on having a more active role in keeping the champions on track.
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Every fan dreams of swapping the stands for a shirt on match day, a place in the crowd for one in the team. Few get the opportunity to fulfill that comic-book ambition, but for Germany midfielder Melanie Leupolz, the fiction has leapt off the page and become reality.
When Germany were beaten by Japan in the quarter-finals of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, Leupolz shared the bitter disappointment of Nadine Angerer and Saskia Bartusiak, though not on the pitch in Wolfsburg. Then 17, Leupolz was just one of the many thousands of supporters who had packed into the fan zones around the country to watch their heroines.
On Sunday, she joined her veteran team-mates centre stage at the Växjö Arena, replacing Anja Mittag to make her maiden senior international start and help the champions to a commanding 3-0 win.
"I feel great even though I haven't slept a lot," the bleary-eyed but beaming 19-year-old, who came off the bench in last Thursday's goalless draw with the Netherlands, said late on Monday morning, her night punctuated by messages of congratulation.
"Of course I was really happy to play from the start, even if I was very nervous in the first few minutes. But it was fun and a great evening. We were much more present in the challenges than we were against the Netherlands, had a lot of chances, and scored three goals, which was important even if our chance conversion rate wasn't all that good."
Leupolz's ability to seize her opportunities, however, is remarkable. After making her international debut less than a month ago in the 1-0 victory against Canada in a pre-tournament friendly, the SC Freiburg player now finds herself with four caps to her name and in line to start Wednesday's final Group B encounter with Norway.
Looking back at where she was two years ago, watching her idol Fatmire Bajramaj on the giant screen, and now finding herself in the same dressing-room as the 1. FFC Frankfurt player, Leupolz has to pinch herself. "Back then, I hadn't counted on things going so quickly," said Leupolz, who joined Freiburg in 2010 where she continued to successfully blend her academic education into her football schooling.
"The work with young players in Freiburg is fantastic, but there is also a lot of individual discipline and training that goes into it as well."
The emergence of youngsters such as Leupolz and Lena Lotzen, who scored Germany's opening goal against Iceland, is a boon for Neid, who was deprived of an experienced sextet of players through injury for the tournament.
For the four-time UEFA Women's EURO-winning coach, Leupolz has all the attributes to help her country prolong their domination of women's football on the continent. "She's progressed an enormous amount. She's physically strong, is good in the tackle, quick, two-footed and heads the ball well," Neid explained before pointing out the one quality Leupolz could not develop by remaining in the Fan Zone. "She has to garner more experience, then she'll become even better."