Prinz stamps seal on the title for Germany

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The Independent Online

Germany retained their European Women's Championship crown yesterday at the expense of a resurgent Norway to provide a predictable end to a well supported and often entertaining tournament.

Germany retained their European Women's Championship crown yesterday at the expense of a resurgent Norway to provide a predictable end to a well supported and often entertaining tournament.

The world and European champions rarely looked like relinquishing their title, even though the Norwegians put up a commendable fight in their first final since winning Olympic gold five years ago.

Having had one day less to prepare than their opponents after a gruelling extra-time win over Sweden in the semi-finals, Norway also had to cope with stifling humidity. But with the bulk of the 21,000-plus crowd behind them, a pattern quickly emerged of the Norwegians preserving their energy against physically superior opponents and trying to use their pace on the counter-attack.

But by the midway point of the first half they found themselves with a mountain to climb after the slick, strong-running Germans struck twice in three minutes. First, Anja Mittag got the slightest of touches to finish off Inka Grings' header; then Renate Lingor's lob doubled the lead.

As a raging thunderstorm enveloped Ewood Park, so the fearless Norwegians responded valiantly and four minutes before half-time halved the deficit when Dagny Mellgren netted with a sublime toe-poke. Sixty seconds later, Norway felt sure they had an equaliser, only for Frantzen's effort to be ruled out for offside.

What did the underdogs have left on a rain-soaked pitch? Twice Lise Klaveness came close to levelling before the 16-year-old prodigy Isabell Herlovsen entered the fray. All, however, to no avail when a swerving shot from the world player of the year Birgit Prinz took a wicked deflection and totally wrong-footed Bente Nordby for Germany's third.

Norway still were not finished and with a little luck might have scored again. But few would begrudge Germany their win after averaging three goals a game to clinch their sixth European title in seven attempts - a special moment for the outgoing coach Tina Theune-Meyer after nine years in the job. "I don't think we are that far ahead of the others but we have a tough-minded group of players," she said. "We also have a structure that runs through the squad, with all the girls starting when they are 15."

Overall, the tournament attracted more than 118,000 spectators which left an encouraging legacy despite the early elimination of the hosts.

"England should continue what they've started," Theune-Meyer said. "They have several very good players who are still very young and will only get better."

Goals: Mittag (21) 1-0; Lingor (24) 2-0; Mellgren (41) 2-1; Prinz (63) 3-1.

Germany (4-4-2): Rottenberg; Minnert, Jones, Hingst, Garefrekas; Pohlers, Carlson (Gunther, 80), Lingor, Mittag (Wimbersky 59); Prinz, Grings (Smicek, 69).

Norway (4-1-4-1): Nordby; Folstad, Christensen, Stangeland, Paulsen; Stensland; Ronning (Knutsen, 84), Gulbrandsen, Frantzen (Herlovsen, 60), Mellgren; Klaveness (Blystad-Bjerke, 86).

Referee: A Ihringova (Slovakia).

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