FIFA.com – Four years on from the famous penalty-kick ending to USA 1999, the FIFA Women’s World Cup USA 2003 saw a climax every bit as thrilling, as Germany deservedly claimed a golden goal 2-1 victory over brave Sweden in front of a near-capacity crowd at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
It was enthralling, adventurous, and in the end, a joyous and cruel match truly deserving of its place as the final memory of USA 2003.
Substitute Nia Kuenzer was the golden-goal hero, heading in Renate Lingor’s free kick eight minutes into the first period of extra time. The shot looped over Swedish goalkeeper Caroline Joensson, delivering a body blow to the Swedes who had held off wave after wave of German attacks on the day.
No player had more to do with that than Joensson, who lay stomach down with her face in her hands as the Germans streamed onto the pitch in celebration.
It was a typical end-of-tournament moment, but one that was no-less cruel because of that. Sweden, who recovered so well after an opening-match defeat to the United States, were the Cinderella darlings of the event, and the stadium for the final was awash with blue and yellow supporters singing “Sverige!” Also on the ground dejectedly were the fantastically impressive Diminutive Duo of Sweden, Victoria Svensson and Hanna Ljungberg.
In the 41st minute, Ljungberg scored a slick opener, latching onto a perfectly weighted through ball from “Vickan,” as Svensson is known. She slotted her strike coolly under Best Goalkeeper Award-winner Silke Rottenberg, and the Swedes went into the half-time break with a one-goal lead. However, Ljungberg was also something of the villain for the Swedes as she found herself all alone in front of the German net with nine minutes to play and the score at 1-1 – Maren Meinert had brought the Germans back to even just a minute into the second half.
Ljungberg tried to volley Frida Oestberg’s cross first-time with her right foot, but she horribly mis-hit it, and Sweden saw their best chance to win the match go begging. In a final, even the smallest mistakes can be crucial and cruel in context. It was a typically pitiless final moment for one of the tournament’s most likable players.
At the other end of the spectrum were the powerful, determined and confident Germans, who won their first FIFA Women’s World Cup. They also became the first nation to win both a men’s and women’s world championship, and their coach Tina Theune-Meyer became the first woman to lead a team to the FIFA Women’s World Cup. These first are all significant developments for the German team and for women’s football, which has continued to get more and more exciting.
In the end one always hopes that the positive feelings outlive the negatives in any sporting event. Brandi Chastain’s celebration at the USA 1999 final still flashes across the mind’s eye while Liu Ying’s saved shot slowly fades out of memory.
And, hopefully the site of retiring captain Bettina Wiegmann lifting the trophy above her head and the confetti raining down on the celebrating world champions will live longer in the memory than the site of Ljungberg and her spirited and skilful Swedish team mates on the ground, bowed and beaten, for now.