It was a memorable night in Moenchendladbach as Germany defeated France 4-2 in thrilling fashion to conclude play in Group A. Both teams had already been assured qualification to the quarterfinals prior to the match, but the outcome determined which team would top the group.
Two-time defending champions Germany entered the match after a pair of unconvincing victories. Tournament dark horses France were fresh off a resounding 4-0 victory against Canada and needed merely a draw against the hosts to finish first in the group.
The match was expected to be a fierce affair between two sides stocked with immense talent and promise, and with six goals, a red card, and a brace from one of women's soccer's most celebrated strikers, the action packed event lived up to the hype.
Each coach selected new-look rosters for the match as France head coach Bruno Bini elected to rest three starters while Germany manger Silvia Neid made four changes - including dropping illustrious but underperforming striker Birgit Prinz in favor of Inka Grings. Fan favorite Fatmire "Lira" Bajramaj also made her first start of the tournament.
Germany had seemingly overcome the nerves that had previously been on display, controlling the majority of possession in the first half. Two towering headers from Kerstin Garefrekes and Inka Grings gave Germany a commanding 2-0 lead going into halftime.
Shot from behind as France's Marie-Laure Delie scores her side's first goal past Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
France emerged a new side and firmly stated its intentions in the 56th minute as striker Marie Laure-Delie nodded in a goal off a set piece. The goal breathed new life into the team and helped infuse the match with white hot intensity.
The dramatics boiled over in the 67th minute when France goalkeeper Berangere Sapowicz raced off her line and crashed into an oncoming Bajramaj. The referee deemed the contact a denial of a goal scoring opportunity and Sapowicz received the first red card of the tournament. Grings stepped up to the penalty area and beat newly arrived goalkeeper Celine Deville to further extend Germany's lead to 3-1.
The goal did not diminish France's doggedness, however, as Germany's defense again got beat by a set piece just four minutes later. This time it was center back Laura Georges who buried the bullet header.
Prior to the match, much had been made of German striker Celia Okoyino da Mbabi's French roots on her mother's side. The 23-year-old seized the talking points once more as she coolly finished an 89th minute goal that sealed Germany's victory.
The win means Germany finishes first in Group A and will now face Group B runners-up Japan in the quarterfinals. France will meet surprise Group B winners England in Les Bleues' first ever quarterfinals appearance in a Women's World Cup.
Here are six other notes from the match:
It's Germany's mentality that should be feared most.
Germany's back four may not have covered itself in glory on the night, but a loaded attack helped spare the team from true humiliation. The team's strike force produced a resounding response after each conceded goal. A mark of a champion is the ability to roar back into life to kill off a match regardless of the circumstances. Germany has now done that in each group match. Germany can be put on the ropes, but its ability to hang in there to deliver the definitive knockout punch is a special characteristic.
Germany can be found out on set pieces.
The two-time world champions' defense continues to give some cause for concern. Against Canada the team conceded its first World Cup goal since 2003 as Christine Sinclair beat goalkeeper Nadine Angerer with a perfectly placed free kick. Another record was broken on Tuesday as Germany gave up two goals in a World Cup match for the first time in 12 years thanks to poor marking on set pieces. The defense has used a zonal marking system that has proven to be less than infallible.
France's weakest link is at the goalkeeper position.
France has looked a complete team throughout the tournament, but the side's first choice goalkeeper, Berangere Sapowicz, has left much to be desired. Her unreliability in dealing with crosses and aerial balls almost cost France points against Nigeria. Today, Sapowicz was made to look foolish as Germany pelted the goalkeeper with lofty crosses and stout headers, although defender Wendie Renard also deserves blame for losing her mark. Sapowicz's red card may only exacerbate France's problems as back-up goalkeeper Celine Deville seemed tentative, particularly on da Mbabi's goal.
Louisa Necib can be closed down.
The mercurial central midfielder was instrumental in France's 4-0 demolition of Canada last week. The 24-year-old wrought havoc on the defense in a free role but was all but shut down versus Germany. Holding midfielders Simone Laudehr and Lena Goessling kept Necib in check up until halftime, which may help explain why France's attack seemed so toothless in the first 45.
Birgit Prinz has no place in Silvia Neid's starting XI.
The FIFA Women's World Cup's all-time leading goal scorer is one of the most prolific strikers in the women's game. The 33-year-old was ineffective in her first two appearances for Germany, however. Her irate reaction to getting subbed off early in Germany's match against Nigeria seized national headlines. Silvia Neid's decision to bench Prinz for this match has been heavily scrutinized, but Inka Grings' Woman of the Match performance helped validate Neid's decision. It's difficult to imagine Prinz finding a way back into the starting line-up.
It was a day that deserves a page in the women's soccer history books.
Given women's soccer's relatively short history, there are only a handful of strikers that can have achieved truly prominent status. Tuesday marked a special day indeed, as three legendary players each made it on to the score sheets in their respective matches.
In addition to Inka Grings' pair of goals, forward Perpetua Nkowcha bagged her first goal of the tournament in Nigeria's 1-0 win against Canada. The star striker has been a mainstay in the Nigeria set-up and helped her team to its first World Cup victory since 1999.
Mexico forward Maribel Dominguez has been nicknamed "Marigol" for her goal scoring prowess. The legendary figure also recorded her maiden goal of the tournament in Mexico's 2-2 draw against New Zealand.