By Julien Pretot
LYON, France (Reuters) – This year’s World Cup will be a pivotal moment for German football as the sport is looking to restore some pride at women’s and men’s level, according to international defender Carolin Simon.
The 26-year-old full back, who joined Olympique Lyonnais this season from SC Freiburg, is hoping her recent experience at a top European club will help Germany find success again after a lack of results following the golden 2000s.
Germany won the 2003 and 2007 World Cups but since then they have only managed a fourth-place finish in 2015 and the fans’ passion for women’s football appears to have waned.
“In Germany, in the last years women’s football has not been so successful and we see it in the stadiums,” Simon told Reuters at OL’s training centre.
“Ten years ago we used to have 10-20,000 fans for an international game and now it’s rather 5-6,000.
“This World Cup is very important for Germany to show that we are good and better than the media think.”
Germany are still second in the FIFA rankings behind world champions the United States and ahead of England and France, who will host the World Cup from June 7-July 7. The semi-finals and final will be played in Lyon – an extra motivation for local player Simon.
“The World Cup is very important to get back to our level,” the Kassel-born player said.
“In France, men’s and women’s football have been very successful and a lot of people are watching the women, it’s the perfect country for this World Cup.”
Olympique Lyonnais have won a record five Champions League titles and are on course to claim a fourth straight trophy in the continent’s premier club competition, leading Chelsea 2-1 in the two-leg semi-final stage.
France have been surfing the wave of the men’s 2018 world title with higher numbers of girls registering in clubs after Les Bleus beat Croatia in the final in Moscow. Germany, who were the holders, crashed out in the group stage – their earliest World Cup exit since 1938.
“In Germany, women have not been successful and men… we don’t have to talk about them, it was not good,” Simon said with a smile.
“It could be better in Germany. We see that in the Netherlands, where men have not been successful, since the women qualified for their first World Cup (and reached the knockout stage), the stadiums are full every time the women play.
“So this World Cup is an important opportunity for us,” added Simon, who now has 15 caps to her name.
“We will need luck, and a special flow during the whole tournament. We hope we can have a good group phase and then we can take it from there, game by game.”
Germany, who have been drawn in Group B with Spain, China and South Africa, are widely expected to advance to the knockout phase, where they should avoid France and the U.S. until a potential final.
To get there, Simon believes her Lyon experience alongside the likes of Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg and England’s Lucy Bronze will boost her team’s chances.
“I can bring something. Here you play with the best in the world, the quality of the training is extremely high,” she explained.
“We have a lot of speed on the pitch but also speed in the brain.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge)