Germany set for dream final but Voss-Tecklenburg’s journey far from over | Women’s Euro 2022

Out on the grass the Germany players gathered in a circle, arms around each others’ shoulders, their journey almost at an end, and sang. In the middle, a member of staff was embraced by the coach, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, and serenaded by the players, applause and “Happy birthday to you” echoing around the empty seats. It was a pretty good way to celebrate: on the eve of a European Championship final, and here.

Wembley again.

“We’ve dreamed of this: a final against England at Wembley.” I don’t know if there’s a bigger moment for our players,” Voss-Tecklenburg said before they made their way out for the last session before Sunday’s final, into an arena that maintains a mythology, a mystique for them too, expressed in Berlin as becoming “Deutsch Wembley” when it hosts cup finals. It’s a stage that may be about to take on an extra significance, the hope expressed of a lasting legacy as well as another story to be told.

Dietmar Hamann scored the last goal before Wembley was redeveloped. There was Euro 1996, 30 years of hurt becoming 56 that could finally end tomorrow. And, of course, 1966. Germans talk fondly too – and yes, they do talk fondly of ’66 – about the quarter-final of the Euros in 1972.

“I was born in 1967, so…” Voss-Tecklenburg said, smiling. “But everyone knows the history between Germany and England, Wembley goals and penalties.” And now there is this, and it is special; Bigger than the rivalry, transcending these teams, but also bigger for the rivalry.

“England v Germany electrifies football fans,” the Germany coach added. “There is such a tradition, a history. For me, there is just one football and this is a football feast. If we could have chosen a dream, we would have chosen England in this final, no one else.” Sitting alongside her was Svenja Huth. When she walked into the room, she sat down, looked up at the cameras – dozens and dozens of them – looking back at her, and then took hers out too. Holding up her phone, she took a photograph. There would be more when they went on to the turf.

“We’re very excited and the stadium is impressive even when empty: this will be the next big challenge but we’re looking forward to it,” Huth said.

“There will be 90,000 there tomorrow. Most will probably be against us but that could be nice as well. It is a great feeling to play in front of so many fans. But the focus is not on the past or the future; it is only about tomorrow. And we want to give our all, which is a lot.”

Voss-Tecklenburg said: “At the beginning Wembley will be English and it would be nice if it would belong to us at the end”

Svenja Huth (left) and Alexandra Popp train at Wembley. Photograph: Nigel French/PA

And yet that would not or should not be the end, which was part of the point. The Euros have been huge in Germany: more than 17 million people watched the semi-final. There has been something almost pure about the experience, the coach suggested. About the sport, not the money. About society too. The line has been that this is not about equal pay but equal play. When it was put to her that the finalists are the teams with the highest win bonuses, and that when she played the bonus was a teapot, she said: “We were amateurs but those Euros were worth as much as the Euros tomorrow.”

She added: “[The public reaction back home] reaches us in different ways. The normal football fan who hasn’t watched a lot of women’s games, celebrities, public screenings. We’re getting a lot of messages. And we talk about one football. I am a football fan, so I am a football fan. I don’t care what kind of match: I love an under-10s game as much as a women’s game or a man’s game. It is nice that this competition has had all the [sporting] attention with the Tour de France. It’s not just our games, it’s all the games, the whole thing. It’s been a great tournament and as a football fan I’m really happy that we can show this quality and that people respect our female players.

“The development we have had makes me very happy. We dreamed of this in the 1990s and now I have the privilege of being the national team manager and being part of the story. This morning I was sitting in my hotel thinking: ‘Wow, it’s really happening.’ I saw the stadium and thought: ‘It’s a reality.’ We have been rewarded. Later I will be able to reflect a bit more calmly.”

Yet there was a reflection here, too. “We have players all over the world who [now] have the chance to make football their profession,” she said. “These are values ​​that are bigger than whether the bonus is €20,000, €40,000 or whatever; that doesn’t change our love for the sport, our attitude. What we want now is more equality: better stadia, more spectators, more TV time, better kick-off times, a more attractive league. We just want to make the next steps and I hope that the sport in general will have a bigger importance in schools, in education and in politics.”

Asked whether Germany had nothing to lose, the coach admitted that the pressure may be greater for England but shot back: “[It’s] a football match.” She added: “On the way here Svenja and I talked about the progress we have seen, the processes. We have grown and we want to continue that. This should give us strength. If they are better we will congratulate them, but we’re not planning to lose. It is a journey that seems extraordinary to some people but we always said we wanted to win every game.

“We will only win if everything that is happening in Europe, in Germany, in England ends in a sustainable way. This has to be a chance for all the countries. This has to continue. We have to take the next steps in football for women. If not now, when?”

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