By Karolos Grohmann
(Reuters) – Germany are targeting a return to the world’s elite at the Women’s World Cup next month after a string of disappointing results for the two-times champions in recent years.
The Germans won the World Cup in 2003 and 2007 but were eliminated in the quarter-finals in 2011 and finished fourth in 2015, and the fans’ passion for women’s football appears to have waned.
A shock quarter-final exit at the 2017 European Championship, an abysmal performance at the invitational SheBelieves Cup and a poor start to their World Cup qualifying campaign led to coach Steffi Jones being sacked last year.
Former Germany international and youth coach Horst Hrubesch took over on an interim basis to secure World Cup qualification, and after restoring order with seven wins and a draw from his eight games, handed the reins over to Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.
The Germans, 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 hosts France and defending champions the United States until a potential final.
“We obviously want to win the group,” Voss-Tecklenburg said.
“That is our first aim. Then we reach the knockout stage and as we want to qualify for next year’s Olympics we need to reach minimum the quarter-finals or the semi-finals (depending on the number of European teams.) This is our minimum demand.”
The former Switzerland coach, who took over in November, named 23 players in her squad with five more players set to join Germany’s training camp in Bavaria later this month as alternates in case of last-minute injuries.
Voss-Tecklenburg has retained a backbone of experienced players in the side, including Olympic champions Dzsenifer Marozsan, Melanie Leupolz, Alexandra Popp and Lena Goessling, among others, while bringing in several younger players.
There is also some experience on the sidelines with two-times world champion Birgit Prinz joining the team as a sports psychologist.
Recent wins over heavyweights France and Sweden and a draw against former world champions Japan have boosted confidence and kept Germany second in the FIFA rankings behind world champions the United States going into the June 7-July 7 tournament.
“We have a good mix of experience and youth. Germany are always among the favourites,” Voss-Tecklenburg added. “We are number two in the world. We know we have these expectations.
“I’m certain if we show our potential on the pitch that we will go far.”
(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Simon Jennings)