“It was a beautiful feeling,” said Giulia Gwinn after scoring the only goal in Germany’s Group B opener against China in Rennes. And a beautiful goal it was too, breaking the deadlock in what had been, for long periods, an ugly game.
After Dszenifer Marozsan’s corner was cleared, the ball fell to 19-year-old Gwinn who took one touch to steady herself in the face of three onrushing defenders before firing the ball home from the edge of the box.
In doing so, the newly-signed Bayern Munich midfielder became only the third teenager to score for Germany at a World Cup after Birgit Prinz and Ariane Hingst, but her wonder-strike also justified coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s faith in youth at this tournament.
Fifteen of Germany’s 23-woman squad in France are World Cup debutants, a generational switch which is necessary after poor showings at the European Championships in the Netherlands two years ago and at the SheBelieves Cup last year.
The downside of youth is inexperience though, and Germany’s lack of tournament pedigree could and indeed should have been exploited by a Chinese team who wasted two gilt-edged chances to take the lead in the first half. Germany’s much-vaunted midfield duo of Sara Däbritz and Melanie Leupolz were particularly quiet.
“They were consistently late into challenges and often caught our feet,” captain Alexandra Popp said of the Chinese team, admitting to DW that the physicality of Germany’s opponents “knocked us off our stride a bit.”
Injury concerns over Marozsan
Alexandra Popp and her teammates were in the wars against China
Indeed, Popp herself also struggled to keep her cool, at one point lightly shoving an opponent after ending up on the turf following a tussle for the ball. China racked up four yellow cards in a physical game.
For Marozsan however, China’s strong-armed approach could have more serious consequences. The German playmaker endured an anonymous afternoon after being caught on the ankle by a studs-up tackle. “It really doesn’t look good,” confirmed Voss-Tecklenburg after the game. “But let’s wait for the diagnosis.”
“We didn’t really expect them to be so aggressive but you have to stand your ground,” Leupolz told DW. “You have to adapt your game, move the ball quicker and not give them the chance to tackle you.”
It had been a baptism of fire for Germany’s young guns, but the youngest of all adapted best. On Thursday, Lena Sophie Oberdorf had been sitting a school exam on muscular physiology at the camp in Rennes. On Saturday, the 17-year-old came on at halftime to become Germany’s youngest ever World Cup representative.
“Lena came on and calmed us all down,” said Leupolz, before also singling out Gwinn for her goal. “They’re both still very young but they are mature and they are already seasoned Bundesliga players. That shows what Germany has to offer and we can look forward to a lot more from them.”
The scrappy win over China was a learning curve for Germany’s youngsters, whose journey now continues with a 600km-trip across northern France to Valenciennes to face Spain on Wednesday.