Sport is unpredictable, and the organizers this Women’s World Cup certainly weren’t reckoning on an early exit for the German hosts. But let’s address the sporting aspect first.
If you only play one good game in a tournament, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get knocked out early. And if you follow up two World Cup titles and months of preparation with a weak quarter-final devoid of clear goal chances while playing in front of an eager home crowd, then you have to ask whether your strategy was right.
When a coach hinders rather than helps her key players with the end result being failure, she has to put up with calls for her resignation – whatever her achievements in the past. What goes for Joachim Löw, coach of Germany’s men’s national team, also goes for women’s coach Silvia Neid.
The sad thing about this rude awakening from Germany’s self-imposed “summer fairytale” of football is not the honest tears of the players or the shocked bewilderment of fans who had only just begun to get into women’s soccer.
But the most fatal consequence for the tournament has been the reaction of the German Football Association (DFB) to the unexpected defeat to Japan. Clearly, the organizers had only planned with a crowning triumph for the home team. But when you’re staging World Cup, the quality of the opposition is as important as how your own side does.
The entire schedule of the tournament including match kickoff times was geared to the expected procession of the German team to the final. Now the World Cup has to go on without them. Neid, whose contract was extended by the DFB before the tournament began, said after her team’s hasty exit she still saw no “motivation problems,” either for herself or her players. (On TV, at least, she was spared the question about stepping down).
Steffi Jones, Germany’s head organizer of the World Cup, mourned on the fan-mile in her national shirt, as if she wasn’t supposed to be playing host for all the teams, while DFB President Theo Zwanziger was on hand in the stadium to console each player in turn.
But it was these same World Cup organizers, who, in collusion with the country’s public broadcasters, built an overblown stage for Germany’s otherwise modest and likable players, and put them under pressure they clearly weren’t ready to cope with.
Now that the red, black and gold flags are being packed away again, we’ll see how successful the tournament really turns out to be – how honest all that public enthusiasm was. Because that’s what sport is all about – it’s about a game that can’t predicted. It’s an event that can be planned to perfection (as this World Cup was, like its men’s counterpart five years ago), but whose end result cannot.
We’ve seen that women’s football has matured into world class sport – the relentless Americans, the technically strong Swedes, and those lightning fast Japanese don’t need any over-inflated hype.
This World Cup has caught the public’s imagination, and will continue to – because the games have been marked by a love of the sport above tactics, because the players celebrate goals with disarming passion, and because they speak with astonishing honesty – the most obvious example being the TV confession of Germany’s humbled star Birgit Prinz, who offered deep insights into her wounded soul.
Women’s football has reached millions of TV spectators and beer garden fans, and won over their hearts. This sport, which was banned in West Germany into the 1970s and barely supported in the communist East, has finally carved out its own place with this tournament.
It’s a place that the DFB should not reduce to a small difference of gender, as it did with its advertising slogan: “The most beautiful side of 2011.” This World Cup has been a massive boost for the sport, and it will continue to be that this coming week.
Even without a German team that didn’t deserve a place in the final.