June 26, 2011

Germany 2, Canada 1

Before a crowd of over 73,000 fans, the Germans opened their 2011 World Cup campaign with a 2-1 victory over Canada. But what looked like a second half cakewalk got a little interesting late in the match.

Germany entered this World Cup as the heavy favorites and they had an enthusiastic and partisan crowd behind them. But while they controlled the opening minutes of the match, they very nearly found themselves behind early on.

In the 6th minute, a German turnover gave Canada their first opportunity. Diana Matheson sent Christine Sinclair through on the left side of the box, but the great Canadian striker put the ball over the crossbar.

Germany continued to pressure on the other end. Erin McLeod was called on to make a great save on Kerstin Garefrekes from close range. But it was only seconds later that Germany struck first.

Babett Peter sent in a well-place cross from the left corner and it found Garefrekes on the back post. She soared about Marie-Eve Nault and headed the ball into the net and it was 1-0 for Germany.

In spite of finding themselves down in the opening minutes of the match, Canada didn't flinch. If anything, they may have had a slight edge in play over the next 25 minutes. They came close to getting a goal in the 20th minute, when Matheson sent another ball across the box, but Linda Bresonik cleared the ball wide, just as it appeared Emily Zurrer, who was making a back post run, might get to it.

Unfortunately, after a strong stretch of solid soccer, the Canadians started making mistakes late in the half. Nault was dispossessed of the ball, giving Melanie Behringer a chance, but she hit it over the crossbar.

In the 42nd minute, Germany took advantage of a misallignment by the Canadian back line. Garefrekes volleyed a long ball forward from just on the German side of the field. Not all of the Canadian defense had stepped forward, which kept a surprised Celia Okoyino da Mbabi onside. She walked in on a breakaway an easily slotted the ball past Erin McLeod to double the lead.

But while the Canadians played a fairly strong first half in spite of the score, the Germans totally dominated the first 35 minutes of the second half. They produced chance after chance, but were unable to increase their lead.

Alexandra Popp, who subbed in for Birgit Prinz in the 56th minute, grazed the top of the crossbar from distance in the 65th minute. Garefrekes missed a golden opportunity a minute later. Popp sent the ball across from the right side of the box to an unmarked Garefrekes just seven yards in front of an open net. Instead of putting the match out of reach, the German midfielder skied the ball over the crossbar.

German chances continued to pile up. McLeod made saves on Popp and Inka Grings and was a bit lucky when a Simone Laudehr blast from 30 yards out knocked paint off the crossbar. At that point, Canada had to feel fortunate to just be down by two goals.

But just when it appeared they had no chance, it was the great veteran Sinclair who got them back in the match. Sinclair was tripped up by Laudehr, which drew a yellow card and gave Canada a free kick from 28 yards out. Sinclair hit a beautiful shot, curling over the wall and dipping just under the crossbar into the upper right corner of the net, beating German keeper Nadine Angerer. In a shocking turn of events, the Canadians suddenly had new life.

They nearly tied it two minutes later on yet another set piece. Canada elected to go with a short corner and passed the ball out to defender Robyn Gale who sent the ball into the penalty area. Unexplicably, no one followed Emily Zurrer and she found herself all alone just 12 yards in front of the goal. She probably had more time than she realized and she volleyed it wide.

After that, Germany was able to play out the final few minutes to seal the victory. While Canada had to be disappointed with the loss, they could take heart in that their goal differential for the day did not end as badly as it could have. With France only defeating Nigeria by a goal and the Canadians only losing by one, it opened up the possibility that Canada might be able to advance into the quarterfinals with a tie against France and a victory over Nigeria.

In fact, that will most likely be the key match in Group A. Canada and France meet on Thursday, with the winner being odds on favorite of advancing.

As for Germany, aside from the brief scare at the end, it was a solid victory. They did surrender their first World Cup goal since 2003, after shutting out all opponents in 2007. They will meet Nigeria on Thursday, a team they destroyed last November by an 8-0 margin.