One record may have been broken at Wembley on Saturday night but one that’s proving an even bigger barrier remains firmly intact.
While many of the 77,768 flag-waving fans who broke the attendance record for a woman’s match in England will take some solace in being part of history, Klara Bühl’s last minute strike means England have still never beaten their old rivals on home soil and only ever beaten them once anywhere in 26 attempts.
“We’re not celebrating [the attendance] at all,” said England coach Phil Neville after the match. “We wanted to beat the second best team in the world and that was a real killer blow for the team.”
As one final, desperate England attack broke down, Neville’s side had to accept that, for all the positives off the pitch, his side are still struggling to beat the best, and the second best. For his opponent, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, this was a performance that offered proof her blend of experience and youth can form a potent concoction.
The visitors started at a furious tempo and Alexandra Popp’s ninth minute looping header gave them a deserved early lead, with the hosts struggling to bear the weight of expectation and the heat of the spotlight. The veteran German striker had already hit the woodwork by that point after a brilliant driving and composed run by Lena Oberdorf, the 17-year-old who is already one of the leaders of the new German generation.
But as the half wore on, England found their feet, and those of their teammates. They should have equalized from the spot on 36 minutes after Beth Mead beat German goalkeeper Merle Frohms to a through ball. But Frohms recovered to push Nikita Parris’ penalty on to her left leg, after which it looped over the goal and settled on the roof of the net.
Then came the sucker punch, and again it was that one-two of an established face and a newcomer. This time Dzsenifer Marozsan (27) drove infield before finding the run of Buhl (18) who confidently slammed home across the keeper from a difficult angle. Coach Voss Tecklenburg was pleased after the game with the contributions of youngsters like Oberdorg and Buhl, saying to expect more youngsters to break into the fold.
“It’s a long process but it’s underway. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,” Voss-Tecklenburg said.
Scent of blood
Though it wasn’t as comprehensive as their 3-0 win here in 2014, Neville acknowledged that his opponents were a little more streetwise. “They smelt the blood and they went for it,” he noted.
Plenty has changed since that match five years ago, when the previous record for a match involving England’s women, 45,619, was set, with the two nations widely judged to be a little closer together on the pitch but heading further apart off it.
Though Saturday’s game was an record for an English women’s team, with only the 2012 Olympic final between USA and Japan attracting more spectators, those who play their football in the country, wherever they are from, are becoming more accustomed to big crowds. This season alone in the Women’s Super League six of the 12 clubs have recorded crowds of over 10,000 with an average attendance of 4,336. The respective figures for the Frauen Bundesliga stand at 0 of 12 clubs and 989.
Not so long ago, the opposite was true. Back in 2011, at a time when Germany were world champions and in the middle of a run of six successive European titles 1.FFC Frankfurt and Turbine Potsdam were pulling in 20,000, while the WSL was attempting to forge an identity in its inaugural year.
Maroszan told DW after the match that the packed house in Wembley was a real eye-opener, one she’d love to experience in a home game.
“We have to have more support for women’s soccer. It’s hard to imagine at the moment as we don’t fill the stadiums we have; but it’s still what I’d like,” the Lyon playmaker said. “I think we are able to do it, we have great stadiums in Germany — so I really hope in the future we will do it as well.”
Bigger stage needed for Germany?
After quarterfinals exits in the last World Cup and Euros, it’s was Germany’s time for rejuvenation. After 31 unanswered goals in their first four European qualifiers, this was a step up in quality and a vastly bigger stage for Voss Tecklenburg and her charges were not fazed.
Though those women out on damp Wembley turf answered every question asked of them, perhaps the bigger question for women’s football in Germany is for how long they can maintain pace, given the differences of direction currently taken by the two country’s governing bodies. While England’s players talk of a new found comfort playing at Wembley and in front of huge crowds, Germany continue to eschew the ‘if you build it they will come’ approach.
Their home games in 2019 have been in Paderborn (capacity 15,000), Regensburg (15,200), Kassel (18,737) and Aachen (32,960). The case for packing out small stadiums has its merits but you’d have struggled to sell them to many of them wildly waving their flags in the November drizzle, even at the end.
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