MILTON KEYNES, England — It felt like there was little significance coming into the game between Germany and Finland on Saturday at the MK Dons Stadium, apart from both sides having the opportunity to show off. Germany had already qualified as Group B winners and Finland were already out, with Denmark and Spain battling it out for second.
However, Germany — who are now tipped by many as favorites after their early Euro 2022 performances — will have wanted to show rivals such as England that they too can whip in goal after goal. For Finland, their eyes may have already been turned towards their World Cup qualifiers in September, where they’re just one point behind Ireland for a playoff spot.
Germany were quick out of the traps, peppering Katriina Talaslahti’s goal with 18 shots in the first half and dominating possession. However, much like rivals England the night before, they failed to convert any of their chances until late in the first half, with the opening goal coming through Sophia Kleinherne in the 39th minute.
For the little possession they had, Finland did have some nice runs up into the box but once it got to that final third, they looked lost as to what to do with the ball and allowed Germany’s star defenders such as Marina Hegering to easily dispossess them .
Many people (this ESPN writer included) cast some doubt over Germany heading into this tournament. Their record in the qualifying stage was perfect, but a loss to Serbia and some uncertainty over where German football — both at league and national level — was heading after years of dominance remained. That was perhaps naive, though, and a reflection on just how much was expected from this Germany team that has the legacy of 22 years of European dominance.
While their performance against Finland might not have been as flourishing as England’s 5-0 rout against Northern Ireland a day earlier, it was still controlled and played exactly how they wanted. They saw their most success come through headers — Germany lead the competition in them — and they were by far the more physical side. Finland had just one shot on goal throughout the entire game because of how strong Germany’s defense was.
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When looking at where other teams have faltered in the group stage, it is clear that Germany have performed above what was expected of them, which makes them heavy favorites to go all the way and eventually meet hosts England in the final.
Asked about their new tag as favorites, Kleinherne called it “a position that we have earned.”
Looking at the two group-stage favorites at this early phase, it feels like England’s brightest talent is weighted towards the front whereas Germany’s is weighted towards the back. Neither side conceded a goal in the group stages but Germany faced stronger opposition. Captain Alexandra Popp is tied with England’s talisman Beth Mead for being the only players to score in each of their team’s group stage matches.
“It was hard work,” Popp said after the game. “We were clearly the better team, but you noticed a bit that the team had slacked off at points.”
The question mark over this Germany side is if they can keep putting goals away in the same way England have. Of the three goals that they scored against Finland on Saturday, two were the first senior international goals for Nicole Anyomi and Kleinherne. England’s attack, however, is made up of some strong veteran strikers such as Fran Kirby, Mead, Ellen White and even the likes of Alessia Russo who, while on the newer side to the squad, has four goals in four games.
Germany’s players are up for the challenge though. “I’ve been waiting for the season for a long time. Now I finally got my chance,” Anyomi said after the game.
While other pre-tournament favorites have shown in the group stage — say, France losing Marie-Antoinette Katoto, or the Netherlands barely getting past a Portugal team that originally failed to qualify for the Euros — Germany have emerged looking almost as unstoppable as England.
Coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg disagreed with the notion that tonight’s win was anything other than what the Germans deserved.
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“Hard-fought? I don’t see it that way now,” Voss-Tecklenburg said after the game. “Sorry, we’re there with nine points and have scored 9-0 goals and made three again today. In addition, we generated playing time for all players.”
She also added that there was a lot more to come out of this squad. “We were in the game from the start and solved it [their self doubt] seriously,” she said.
“It wasn’t brilliant, but we put a lot of power into the attacks. Only the last pass was missing and the precision — we didn’t reward ourselves for that. We have a difficult quarterfinal ahead of us, but we’ re happy that we broke the group so confidently.
It would be foolish to discount this Germany squad and what they can achieve. Slow and steady often wins the race and, without the pressure of being hosts, this could be a moment for them to prove that German football is still up there with the best.