Germany’s Math: Two Goals, Two Wins and One Big Loss

VALENCIENNES, France — Germany is the only country besides the United States to win the Women’s World Cup more than once. But its players entered this summer’s global soccer championship both frustrated and cleverly defiant about their obscurity.

A much-discussed advertisement by a team sponsor boldly acknowledged the women’s accomplishments and the prejudice of Germany’s male-dominated soccer culture: Their reward for winning the first of eight European championships? A tea set. Their words of encouragement for winning the World Cup in 2003 and 2007 and the Olympics in 2016: “‘Women are just there to have babies.’ ‘They belong in the laundry room.’ ‘It’s like watching amateurs in slow motion.’”

The punch line of the ad, widely quoted, was a double entendre about soccer balls and knowing how to use them.

“Don’t worry, you don’t need to know who we are,” the ad said. “You just need to know what we want.”

Yet what the German players want is not coming easily. Germany was outplayed by Spain on Wednesday and was fortunate to win, 1-0, when midfielder Sara Däbritz pounced on hesitancy in the Spanish goal mouth in the 42nd minute. The Germans seemed to deeply miss their absent playmaker, Dzsenifer Marozsan, who broke a toe on her right foot in a wobbly 1-0 victory over China in the opening match of group play.

“It hurts because she’s not a player you can replace so easy,” the defender Giulia Gwinn said of Marozsan. “The whole team was shocked.”

And though Germany defeated Spain without Marozsan, most likely avoiding a showdown with the United States in the second round, the injury is not without serious concern as the tournament progresses.

Marozsan scored the first goal for her club, Olympique Lyonnais Féminin, in its rout of Barcelona for a fourth consecutive title in the European Champions League in May. She also scored during the final of the 2016 Rio Olympics as Germany won the gold medal. Her steadying and creative presence — 32 goals in 89 international appearances — will be absent again from Germany’s final group match against South Africa. There is hope that Marozsan can return during the knockout rounds, but Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg cautioned, “We can’t make any predictions.”

Apart from leading her team, Marozsan, 27, embodies the decades of yearning and hindrance that women have faced in trying to sustain soccer careers in Germany. Born in Hungary, she moved to Germany at age 4 as her father, Janos, continued his own professional career as a midfielder. Her father encouraged her to play soccer, Marozsan told the BBC in 2018, but her mother objected, steering her into dance classes.

“After dance class I would take my ball and go out to play with my brother,” she said then. “She can’t stop me playing. Everything in my life is around football. I live it.”

A pulmonary embolism sidelined Marozsan for three months of Lyon’s 2018-19 season. She feared initially that she might not play again and now must wear compression garments on long flights. But she recovered sufficiently to be named the top club player in France and to lead Lyon to its fourth straight Champions League title. Marozsan is missing one trophy — the World Cup — and this year’s semifinal and final matches will be played in Lyon, where support for her would be stirring. But now her status, and Germany’s, is uncertain.

“It just hurts to not see her play because it was a special tournament for Dzseni, so it affects us not only as a sports matter but on a personal level,” Voss-Tecklenburg said.

In a broader sense, such exasperation has long been the way for women and soccer in Germany.

Following World War II, independent clubs were formed there in the 1950s, only to be stifled by the German soccer federation’s official ban on the women’s game in 1955. The reasons given were familiar to women who had been barred in England and France — they threatened the men’s game, and their health and femininity would supposedly be undermined by rough play.

When the German ban was lifted in 1970, propelled by the second wave of feminism, early restrictions placed on female players were humiliating, according to Andrei Markovits, a professor of comparative politics and German studies at Michigan and the author of “Women in American Soccer and European Football.”

Women were forced to play 60 minutes instead of the regulation 90. They used youth balls that were smaller and lighter. They were not allowed to wear cleats. They were subjected to regular gynecological exams, Markovits wrote, and were prohibited from wearing advertising across the chest of their jerseys out of concern that this would “attract the spectators’ prurient attention.”

While the recent World Cup ad was viewed as empowering for women’s soccer in Germany, it also was an acknowledgment that women continue to struggle for respect and attention in a sport where the German men’s national team has won four World Cups and three European championships, and in which a number of its club teams are European powers.

To support women’s soccer in Germany is, effectively, to partake in progressive politics, Markovits said in a telephone interview. “Basically, you’re saying, I’m leaving this completely encrusted male world and I honor these women by my attention and presence,” he said. “It’s much more an act of enlightenment to go than it is in the United States,” where women’s soccer has met much less resistance.

Markovits is scheduled to give lectures in Germany in late June. When he alerted his hosts in Düsseldorf that Germany might be playing then in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, he said they replied, “Oh yeah, well, maybe, who cares?”

“If it were a men’s quarterfinal, they wouldn’t hesitate,” Markovits said. “It’s just a different thing.”



Jeré Longman is a sports reporter and a best-selling author. He covers a variety of international sports, primarily Olympic ones. He has worked at The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Dallas Times Herald and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss.

Source: Read Full Article