Young midfield holds key to Germany's Women's World Cup chances

History doesn't favor Germany in its title defense. After all, no team has yet to successfully defend its Women's World Cup championship.

But Germany coach Silvia Neid has a blend of experience and youth -- just like the USA -- that will make her team difficult to beat.

The Germans enter China '07 as the class of the European finalists. They cruised to the 2005 UEFA women's title and won all eight games in Women's World Cup qualifying.

Germany earned a shootout victory over the USA in the final of the 2006 Algarve Cup -- the closest thing to a loss for the USA in the Greg Ryan era, The Germans were outplayed by a wide margin -- the USA had a 16-8 edge in shots and 13-3 edge in corners -- but they got a sensational game from veteran goalie Silke Rottenberg.

Injuries to Rottenberg, however, have forced Neid to install long-time backup Nadine Angerer, 28, as the first-choice keeper for China.

Three-time Women's World Player of the Year Birgit Prinz -- once courted by Italian Serie A (men's) team Perugia -- is one of 12 veterans of the 2003 championship team to return for the 2007 finals. Also back are midfielder Renate Lingor and defender Kerstin Stegemann.

Like Prinz, Sandra Smisek has more than 100 appearances for Germany.

The key to Germany will be its young midfield. Of the newcomers, the player to watch is Kosovo-born Fatmire Bajramaj. Big things are also expected from two other newcomers, Melanie Behringer and Simone Laudehr

GERMANY ROSTER:
Goalkeepers -- Nadine Angerer (Turbine Potsdam), Ursula Holl (Bad Neuenahr), Silke Rottenberg (FFC Frankfurt).
Defenders -- Saskia Bartusiak (FFC Frankfurt), Sonja Fuss (Duisburg), Ariane Hingst (Djurgardens IF, Sweden), Annike Krahn (Duisburg), Sandra Minnert (Bad Neuenahr), Babett Peter (Turbine Potsdam), Kerstin Stegemann (Wattenscheid 09).
Midfielders -- Fatmire Bajramaj (Duisburg), Melanie Behringer (Freiburg), Linda Bresonik (Essen-Schoenebeck), Kerstin Garefrekes (FFC Frankfurt), Simone Laudehr (Duisburg), Renate Lingor (FFC Frankfurt), Petra Wimbersky (FFC Frankfurt).
Forwards -- Anja Mittag (Turbine Potsdam), Martina Mueller (Wolfsburg), Birgit Prinz (FFC Frankfurt), Sandra Smisek (FFC Frankfurt).

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