Still only 20, Germany's midfield linchpin Lena Oberdorf looks destined for a dazzling future – just as soon as she has helped her side quell England in the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 final.
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Despite their rich pedigree in this competition, Germany will take to the Wembley pitch for the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 final having silenced a lot of doubters. The eight-time winners were written off by many before the tournament began, but a fierce collective effort has brought them to the cusp of history once more – and one of the most valuable cogs in their machine has been 20-year-old defensive midfielder Lena Oberdorf.
'Obi', as she is known, has always been mature beyond her years. The younger sister of Fortuna Düsseldorf centre-back Tim Oberdorf played for the same boys' club as her brother until 2018, developing the robustness she has showcased in England. Indeed, her Germany career began at Under-15 level while still only 12, and she went on to win the UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship as a 15-year-old in 2017 – being named player of the tournament, no less.
Two years later, she featured at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup, where her precocious talent again turned heads. Brought on against China in her team's opening game, Oberdorf became Germany's youngest ever player on the World Cup stage at the age of 17 years and 171 days, eclipsing a record previously held by national icon Birgit Prinz.
Unsurprisingly, she has not looked, or felt, out of place this summer. "I don't recognise that I'm 20," Oberdorf explained after Germany's 4-0 defeat of Denmark on Matchday 1. "I feel as if everybody sees me as a 28-year-old player when I'm on the pitch."
Off it too. The Wolfsburg ace is already part of the Germany squad's Mannschaftsrat (team council), which includes players far senior to her in both age and experience, such as Alex Popp, Almuth Schult, Lina Magull, Svenja Huth and Sara Däbritz.
"With Obi, you forget that she's still so young because she plays with such maturity," says Däbritz, her partner in midfield. "With such a tackler on the pitch, you win a lot of one-on-ones. She's a real animal and so important for the team. When she has the ball, she has a calmness and assuredness about her, [and] she's good in the air. She's really an outstanding footballer and human being too."
Tough in the challenge and a powerful presence, Oberdorf's preferred position is as a No6, though she admits to needing "three or four good tackles to get into a game". One of her role models growing up was Sergio Ramos, and she also shares the Spanish defender's affinity for yellow cards – something her team-mates often tease her about.
"I thought I'd learned how to get through a game without a yellow card," she joked after the semi-final victory against France, when she collected her third booking of the tournament. "That didn't really go as planned in the first two games either. But I'll keep at it."
Crucially, though, her true knack is for reading the game, knowing exactly when to make a move and break up an attack. Oberdorf is the central wheel in Germany's midfield engine that keeps everything running, and it is a role valued highly by Martina Voss-Tecklenburg. The Germany coach rarely singles out players for praise after a game, but even she could not resist following the 2-0 quarter-final win against Austria: "The way [Oberdorf] played today in that position, at her young age… Wow!"
One thing is certain: Oberdorf appears to have many years ahead of her at the heart of Germany's midfield. But, true to her tenacity on the pitch, she will not want to let this chance slip to claim her first senior international trophy – the perfect ending to a tournament in which her talent has flourished.