5 July ~ For many of those among the astonishing 15 million German TV viewers of the opening game of the Women's World Cup, the tournament was seen as being largely about two players. It was to be the pinnacle of a glorious career for Birgit Prinz, the three times world player of the year and scorer of 128 international goals. It seemed to be preordained that she would be lifting the trophy on July 17 as national team captain in her home city of Frankfurt.
Then there is the current face of the German women’s game, Fatmire “Lira“ Bajramaj. As an eloquent and outrageously skilled Muslim woman, Lira represents for many a symbol of a new Germany that has taken an unprecedented level of interest in the tournament. To say that that it hasn't gone to plan for either player would be an understatement.
Prinz's angry words after her early substitution in the hosts' 1-0 win over Nigeria were telling. She hasn't scored in 343 minutes for the national side, but chose to blame the other players. “The passing hasn't been good, we win too few balls in the midfield,” was her take on the their scratchy 1-0 victory against Nigeria which, nevertheless, saw them through to the next round.
Bajramaj, meanwhile, has barely made it off the bench. She was criticised for her selfish attitude in her 19 minutes against Canada when it seemed as if she was playing for herself, for the glory and for the glamour and not (in Germany, the greatest crime of all) for the team.
Since the announcement of her impending move to 1. FFC Frankfurt from league winners Turbine Potsdam rumours have abounded about her lack of effort and bad attitude. She was disappointing in the Champions League final loss against Lyon and questions were rife as to whether she spent too much time selling trainers and fizzy drinks as opposed to getting her mind and body ready for what should have been the crowning achievement of her still young career.
In her bestselling autobiography, My Goal in Life, Bajramaj talks movingly about her life as an immigrant having fled Bosnia as a child. She has been forced to deal with huge obstacles in her life, but has always felt able to forget them as soon as she stepped out onto the pitch. But she now has another obstacle to deal with in that another young striker, Celia Okoyini da Mbabi, has moved ahead of her in the pecking order.
As for Prinz, there is never a question that she will give up but her lack of form is startling. Germany face an impressively free-scoring France side today to decide the winners of Group A, but there will be as much attention on the bench as on the pitch. For two women at differing stages in their careers, there is more than a third consecutive World Cup win at stake over the next fortnight. Jacob Sweetman Exberliner