DFB women save their summer: The remarkable transformation of the “scared cats”

The German Olympic squad is growing. The soccer players buy the ticket and fulfill their and their coach Horst Hrubesch’s big dream. The 72-year-old has high ambitions – but not everything is perfect in the team.

“Summer is saved.” Klara Bühl beamed at these words. It is now clear where the 23-year-old’s journey will go: to France with the DFB team for the Olympic Games. The women made their big dream come true, deservedly won the “all or nothing” game against the Netherlands 2-0 and thus secured their ticket. Bühl and her teammate from FC Bayern, Lea Schüller, made the victory clear with their goals.

The German team missed the Olympic Games in 2021, but won gold the last time they took part in 2016, under coach Silvia Neid. Four players from back then are still in interim national coach Horst Hrubesch’s team: captain Alexandra Popp and defender Kathrin Hendrich played against the Netherlands, Svenja Huth and Sara Däbritz kept their fingers crossed from the bench. Hrubesch himself was also there in Rio de Janeiro at the time – but only as a spectator for the women. He also made it to the final with the German men’s selection, but hosts Brazil and Neymar lost. Hamburger SV, from whom he is only on loan to the DFB, describes him as “Lord of the Rings” in their congratulatory post on X.

And the status is much higher for women than for men. While only players who are not older than 23 years old are allowed to compete, there is no age restriction for women. It is a duel between the world’s best teams and the world’s best players and is associated with a lot of prestige. For comparison: among the men, not all of the players in Germany were ready for Tokyo 2021; the coach at the time, Stefan Kuntz, had to contend with reluctance, especially from the clubs. And so the team was eliminated in the group phase.

Hrubesch gives out a mammoth task

Things should now be different for Horst Hrubesch. The 72-year-old can crown his long career in France – the games are not only played in Paris, but also in Bordeaux, Nantes, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Saint-Etienne. The Olympic motto “Being there is everything” doesn’t appeal to him at all. “I’m not going to Paris to play, I want to get to the final.” Whether the teams have already been established is a mammoth task. The world champions from Spain, the defending champions from Canada, the hosts from France as well as the USA, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, Australia and New Zealand are taking part. The two African nations have not yet been decided. The group draw will take place on March 20th. The game is played in three groups of four, then it goes straight to the quarter-finals.

Hrubesch has already crowned his second term with the DFB Women. With success he extends it by a few months. He said he would have walked to Paris to take part in the Olympics, and the DFB will certainly find a more convenient option. He had already stepped in once in 2018 when nothing was going well. After the World Cup debacle in Australia last year and the separation from Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, he once again got involved in the job. A win for the women, as they repeatedly emphasize. And so it was a win for Hrubesch against the Netherlands: “We also gave a few percent for him today,” said Bühl.

From “scaredy football” to a self-confident appearance

It’s not just their summer that’s saved. The team’s downward spiral has stopped. The entire DFB can breathe a sigh of relief. This was evident on the Heerenveen pitch after the final whistle. Not only Hrubesch and his players celebrated there, but also DFB President Bernd Neuendorf, managing director Andreas Rettig and women’s sports director Nia Künzer. A sense of achievement for the struggling association. Before the men’s home European Championships. A sense of achievement after there had only been bad news from the DFB recently.

The women also gave them on Friday. In the game against France (1:2) there was “scaredy football” to be seen. A quote from Giulia Gwinn, who scored the DFB’s only goal of the evening with her confident penalty kick. The early qualification for the Olympics and the entry into the final of the Nations League were missed.

There was no longer any sign of the scaredy-cats against the Netherlands. The body language and the appearance of the German team on the pitch were right from the start. The duels were conducted confidently, every ball was won back, the score could have been 1-0 earlier. “We gave everything from the first minute,” said a satisfied Bühl. And captain Popp said: “Everyone put in a lot of kilometers today, but it was worth it.”

Oberdorf shows the change

An example of this change can be seen in just five days with Lena Oberdorf. The 22-year-old was a shadow of herself against France and, with her hard foul, gave the French team an unnecessary penalty that made it 2-0. “She doesn’t have to come with the straddle,” Popp complained afterwards. Hrubesch said she had “acted stupidly”. On Wednesday evening, the Wolfsburg player, who is moving to rivals FC Bayern after the season, played world-class again. She cleared away at the back – and set accents at the front. Even more so, without them Bühl would never have made it 1-0. She won the ball, carried it into the penalty area, passed it outside to Jule Brand and then set up the lead with her header pass to Bühl.

The form of the DFB team fluctuates a lot. The consistency is missing. It was already missing under Voss-Tecklenburg and resulted in the World Cup debacle. And Hrubesch hasn’t found her yet either. But he at least managed to give the team confidence back with simple game ideas. He has improved the mood in the team. He has ensured that the team delivers when absolutely necessary. In December, they took the lead in the Nations League group with their convincing 3-0 win against Denmark in Rostock and secured their place in the final tournament with a lucky 0-0 draw in Wales. Otherwise the dream of the Olympics would have already been shattered. So now the win against the Netherlands and the fulfillment of the dream.

Although it won’t last for everyone. Only 18 players are allowed to take part, five players have to be removed from the squad. The World Cup players Nicole Anyomi, Chantal Hagel, Lena Lattwein, Lina Magull and Felicitas Rauch were already missing. The fight will be tough, but the DFB is currently officially defending itself against the small squad along with other European nations. However, it is unlikely that the International Olympic Committee will give in. Hrubesch will have to decide with his coaching team.

At the same time, another coach could already be working in the background. The qualification for the 2025 European Championships in Switzerland will begin in April – well before the Olympics. Hrubesch will also be in charge of the qualifying games, but no longer the European Championships. Who will be the trainer will be announced “promptly,” as Künzer said. First of all, Bühl’s statement is important: “Summer is saved.”

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