Maren Meinert was the key to Germany’s success in the 2003 Women’s World Cup. (Photo courtesy of the German Football Association)

This story was posted on U.S. Women’s Soccer Magazine Oct. 10, 2003

By Michael Lewis

Carson, Calif. — The mantle of the best women’s soccer player in the world is about to be passed from Mia Hamm to one of two Germans who will showcase their skills in the Women’s World Cup final Sunday.

Which player do you think deserves the honor? Maren Meinert and Birgit Prinz?

They are the dynamic duo that has propelled Germany to the semifinal triumph over the U.S. and to the verge of it first world championship vs. Sweden.

If Michelle Akers, Carin Gabarra and April Heinrichs were the “triple-edged sword” of the 1991 Cup, then Meinert and Prinz are the double-edged sword of this tournament.

Meinert cuts a wide swath on the field, primarily with her playmaking (Cup-best seven assists to go with three goals), while Prinz is the lethal finisher (Cup-high seven goals) who isn’t selfish (four assists).

“When I see how many shots I missed I am surprised to see myself at the top of the scoring leaders,” Prinz said with a smile after practice at the Home Depot Center complex earlier this week.

Prinz, who will return to her job as a physical therapist after the Women’s United Soccer Association demise, has just about everything you would need in a player. She has size (5-9, 170 pounds). She is strong. She is fast. And at 25 she is in her prime.

“It’s easy to find her,” Meinert said. “She just finishes the balls that I give to her. It’s so easy to play with a great forward.”

Prinz brings a competitive spirit that is second to none. “I hate to lose,” she said. “I’m too competitive sometimes. When I play Hearts I hate to lose, too.”

“Birgit is a winner,” German coach Tina Theune-Meyer said. “She is so sad if she loses. She needs about month to forget.”

The 30-year-old Meinert’s vision, leadership and precision passes makes her the mastermind of the German attack and a leading Golden Ball candidate as the Cup’s top player. Meinert can pull off a unique triple after capturing MVP honors for the WUSA’s regular season and all-star game.

“It’s easy for me to play with her,” Prinz said. “We both want success for the team. We are both trying to find each other to score goals.”

Theune-Meyer agreed. “She’s very quick in her decision making and she never looks at the ball,” she said. “It’s always a wide view . . . She never does what you expect.”

Added U.S. forward Abby Wambach: “I think one of her teammates on Boston said: ‘You can’t stop her. You have to contain her. That’s a perfect analogy for that woman because she’s so deceptive on the ball. She’s that crafty. She wiggles as April (Heinrichs, the U.S. coach) says. She brings you one way and she goes the complete opposite being where you can’t even imagine she would go with the ball. That’s a true sign of a great player.”

The 5-5, 132-pound Meinert, who had retired from international soccer before she was persuaded to return for one last hurrah, thought she had her one opportunity at a title when Germany lost to Norway in the 1995 final.

“I was very disappointed. I felt as a player you get a chance once in your life,” she said. “We missed it badly. I’m surprised I got another chance.

”I want to have a better game and a better result for my team.”

Meinert praised her former Boston Breakers coach Pia Sundhage, a former Swedish international who is an unofficial consultant to the Swedish team.

“She taught me that I can make a difference,” Meinert said. “Nobody had told me that before. It gave me confidence. I’m a little bit nervous she will find the right way to stop me.”

While the Germans in general might have a reputation in some quarters as being arrogant, the women’s team suffered from a lack of confidence until recently, believe it or not.

“The German team always had problems with their confidence,” Meinert said. “They are always told to be quiet and be respectful. When I came back I said, ‘Hey, we can win the World Cup. That doesn’t mean I don’t have respect. I see the Swedish team. I see the U.S. team. Our German team is a good team, too and we have to believe that on the field.”

Retired star striker Juergen Klinsmann, who helped Germany to the 1990 World Cup crown and who now lives in Orange County, believes in this team. He is convinced the German women can win it all. And for good reason — they haven’t scored less than three goals in any of their five previous matches.

“I’m impressed,” he said. “They had a fantastic performance (against the U.S.). The will win on Sunday.”

But Meinert cautions anyone who thinks Germany already has won it.

“If we don’t play like we did against the USA (a 3-0 victory), we won’t win it,” she said. “No one gives us the World Cup for free.”