Swedes impressed by German powerhouse

Posted: Thursday, October 09, 2003

CARSON, Calif. The Swedish players aren't afraid to call Germany the favorite in Sunday's World Cup final.

They also don't fear the Germans, who have been overpowering in winning five games, including a 3-0 semifinal victory over the United States.

''I am not surprised by Germany being in the final,'' Swedish star forward Victoria Svensson said before practice Wednesday. ''I thought they should beat them, because they are playing very good football. To beat the U.S. in the U.S. is tough, but the German team is playing so well.''

Indeed, Germany has outscored opponents 22-3 and eliminated the top-ranked Americans, who beat Sweden 3-1 in the opener. The Germans also defeated Sweden in overtime to win the 2001 European Championship.

''Birgit Prinz, Maren Meinert, Bettina Wiegmann, these are great players,'' Svensson added. ''Meinert is the best player in the world, in my opinion.

''I have no problem saying Sweden is an underdog. But we are very capable of winning, too.''

Indeed, the Swedes are riding a wave of success, as well. After the loss to the United States, they were faced with must-win situations in every other match. They beat North Korea and Nigeria to advance; outplayed highly touted Brazil in the quarterfinals; then rallied to beat Canada with two late goals in the semis.

In general, Sweden plays close games, which might be another edge in what figures to be a tactical, intense final.

''In some ways, yes, that can be an advantage,'' goalkeeper Caroline Joensson said. ''It is significant for our team and shows we are a team of winners.

''We also lost the first game in Euros in 2001 to Germany and came back to make the final and lose a close match on a golden goal. We have the experience of that situation before and it also helped us. I don't think we panicked then, or now in this tournament.''

They don't expect the Germans to panic in any sense, either. Except for the Americans, no team has come close to testing Germany.

And after defeating the consensus favorite, why should the Germans, who lost 2-0 to Norway in the 1995 final, doubt they will win their first World Cup?

Well, there is the possibility of overconfidence.

''We need three to four more days to keep this mental spirit like we had against the U.S.,'' Germany coach Tina Theune-Meyer said. ''We didn't win the tournament yet.''

The Germans also believe Sweden is about the most difficult opponent they could face from the other tournament bracket. Meinert, the most valuable player in the WUSA last season and appearing in her final World Cup, isn't buying any favorite-underdog talk.

''We just have to think Sweden is a very good team, which we know is true,'' she said. ''If we do not play like we did against the U.S. team, we will not win. No one will give us the World Cup for free.''

The Americans, who had Wednesday off as they traveled from Portland, Ore., to California, face Canada for third place on Saturday.

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