Saturday 05 November 2016, 10:52

Prinz: The ability to perform at key moments

Over the course of her outstanding 17-year career on the big stage, Birgit Prinz achieved what many people can only dream about. She scored 128 times in 214 appearances for Germany's women's national team, including 14 goals spread across five FIFA Women's World Cups™. Among her other successes are two Women's World Cup triumphs, five European Championships and three Olympic bronze medals, while at club level she won three UEFA Cups, nine German league titles, ten German cups and the US Championship with Carolina Courage.

Prinz made her national team debut in 1994 as a 16-year-old and went on to become the first woman to play in three World Cup Finals. The three-time FIFA Women's World Player of the Year winner (2003, 2004 and 2005) led her team to World Cup glory in the 2003 Final against Sweden, having been on the losing side in the 1995 title-decider against Norway. Her consistent finishing ability and knack of scoring decisive goals in important matches made Prinz a shining example for countless young stars to follow. Many of those players rose, or are still rising, to prominence in the world game.

The now 39-year-old conclusively sealed her standing as one of the best players of all time in Germany's triumphant Women's World Cup campaign at China 2007, in what was one of the highlights of the Frankfurt native's unique career. Retaining the Women's World Cup title is a feat no country had ever previously managed, and Germany remain the only nation ever to have defended their global crown.

German dominance versus Brazilian flair Prinz, who won the adidas Silver Ball at that tournament – only finishing behind Brazil's Marta – and also contributed five goals, was one of the pillars of Germany's success. Her speed, ability to make her presence felt and ruthlessness in front of goal were decisive factors in the triumph.

Germany's path to glory at a gripping spectacle in China began with an 11-goal thrashing of Argentina. They also posted a draw against England, as well as wins over Japan, Korea DPR and Norway en route to the Final. "She's simply the best there is in her position," said Norway's coach at the time, Bjarne Berntsen, of Prinz following his side's 3-0 semi-final defeat. His Germany counterpart Silvia Neid, who handed the reins of the national team to Steffi Jones earlier this year, echoed that sentiment: "Birgit's unbelievably important for us because she can decide a game on her own." Both tacticians were to be proved right once more in the Final in Shanghai.

There, Germany's dynamism met with Brazilian flair: experience versus euphoria, efficiency versus elegance. The match offered confirmation of Prinz's reliability in attack and of her gift of performing at decisive moments. When the pressure was truly on, Prinz kept her nerve and Marta did not.

Prinz versus Marta In the first half Marta repeatedly showcased her quality, energetically probing for goal. However, the Brazilian was unable to get the better of Germany goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, who did not concede all tournament. After the break it was Prinz who paved the way for Germany's victory. And who better to score the crucial opener than football's one true 'princess'? Sandra Smisek outfoxed her marker inside the box with a neat turn before laying it off to the onrushing Prinz, who coolly slotted in from ten yards out. At the opposite end of the pitch, Marta spurned the opportunity to equalise when she missed a penalty, firing to her left only to see Angerer save her effort. The magic the then-21-year-old had exuded since the start of the competition abandoned her in that very moment. Shortly before full time Simone Laudehr grabbed Germany's second to make it 2-0.

Immediately after the final whistle, as Prinz and Co celebrated on the pitch surrounded by a huge fireworks display and a shower of golden confetti, it was apparent that the victory would hold a special place in their hearts. The tension they had been carrying for weeks as title favourites suddenly dissipated as they did that label justice. "A lot was thrown at us this year, there was a lot of criticism," the 5'10" (1.79 metre) striker told "And we showed the right response, saying: 'Hey, you won't get us down that easily'. This was a huge confirmation of that. The joy this time is different to how it was in 2003."

Weeks later Prinz looked back fondly on the triumph: "The highlight remains winning the World Cup in China, and especially the moments just after the final whistle. We achieved that as a team."

Reflecting on her career - which finished in August 2011 - Prinz was philosophical when asked if 2007 was extra special. "I think every trophy counts as very special," said Prinz - a qualified psychologist - modestly. "Obviously there's a certain hierarchy, but I wouldn't like to rank any one trophy above any other."