Where The Girls Are You might think it was a big deal to win the World Cup. It wasn't

October 19, 2003

FRANKFURT, GERMANY: This is the Old World: a place where the
tawdry revelations about Kobe Bryant are handled in a small-type
paragraph, where people snort at the import of the Yankees-Red
Sox rivalry, where the NFL is a brutal curiosity. A place where
women's soccer is still third class, where Germany's 3-0 upset of
the Americans in the semifinals of the World Cup on Oct. 5 was
not billed as a metaphor for the countries' split over Gulf War
II, because no one in Europe cared enough to draw the parallel. A
men's match would have drawn that comparison and worse, yet even
on Sunday, with the ultimate prize at stake, the sport that
launched a thousand riots felt like a nice little game.

At 7 p.m. one sports bar in Frankfurt switched channels to show
the country's final against Sweden. Of the 50 people there, only
eight stared at the screen. "Women's football isn't that popular
yet," said Jesko Meyer, a 33-year-old fund manager. "I only knew
this morning the time of the game. For the men, everyone would
know a year before what time." Across town 35 Germans sat
watching the game on a big screen in another bar but spent most
of the time eating or talking. Only one woman sat on the edge of
her chair in front of the TV screen for the full 97 minutes and
34 seconds, talking to herself, growling at the players, waving
away the waitress who dared get into her sightline while serving
a beer.

"Bitte ... bitte ... BITTE! [Please ... please ... PLEASE!]"
yelled Christina Haverkamp as her team rushed forward. Here,
after all, was Germany in the most important game the women's
team had ever played. Yet even surrounded by Germans, Haverkamp
was alone. The other patrons rolled their eyes when she glared or
muttered.

Sixteen months ago, when the German men's team lost to Brazil in
the World Cup final, thousands gathered in one of Frankfurt's
plazas and watched on a giant TV screen. Crowds jammed bars, you
could follow the play-by-play walking down the street, moans and
cheers filled the air. But when Nia Kunzer whiplashed a
crossbar-grazing header to snap Sunday's gorgeously tense affair
and give Germany the 2-1 overtime win, there was none of that.
Haverkamp, a fortysomething human-rights activist who not only
played soccer as a teen but also was the first woman to study it
in her college (earning a degree in athletic training), relaxed
the instant the game ended--and then tensed up all over again.

"I'm very happy," she said, "but I'm sad about the attention this
got in Germany. The women showed very good football, very
elegant. But it's very machismo here. Terrible. Even when the
women are so good."

It should've come as no surprise, I suppose, that women's soccer
barely registered on the radar anywhere in Europe. How could it
compete? What with the start of the Rugby World Cup in Australia
and Saturday's final frenzied round of qualifying for the 2004
European soccer championships, men were battling all over the
continent. There was the usual England-on-the-brink madness:
English footballers threatened to boycott their game against
Turkey (they were upset defenseman Rio Ferdinand had been pulled
off the team for failing a drug test), then played to a rough 0-0
tie. Greece endured a week of strikes that only heightened
worries about its ability to host next summer's Olympic Games,
then beat Northern Ireland to qualify for its first European
Championship in 24 years. France crushed Israel amid tight
security. The Czechs smacked Austria.

In Germany they did pay some attention, but only after
celebrating the men's victory over Iceland and Formula One king
Michael Schumacher's Sunday drive for a record sixth world title.
It didn't help that the women's tournament was played in the U.S.
The Teutonic quota of U.S. news was already saturated with
headlines about Roy Horn and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It helped
even less that it was women's soccer, which most here consider an
American oddity, a competition embraced only when you can't
compete with the big boys. The American reality of female
players' being more popular than male players is dismissed as
absurd.

That attitude, of course, is part of what makes Europe so
compelling. We are still in the dawn of the euro's life and while
the forces pushing a United States of Europe may be unstoppable,
there are some passions no European Community can paper over. The
Turks defended their stadium with 7,500 police to prevent English
fans entering. Here, unity stops at the locker room door. Here,
sports reveal best what bubbles beneath: The frightening passion,
the national pride, the bald chauvinism that seemingly trumps
all--even the fact that the women's final was better than any of
the men's games played the day before.

It was so good, with its great goalkeeping, relentless attacking
and the desperation that pushed both sides, that in the first
minutes afterward, it was possible to imagine the streets
vibrating with joy. Frankfurt, after all, is home to five of
Germany's best players. Surely there would be cars honking,
people chanting....

"There will be nothing," Haverkamp said. "You will not even know
the women won."

Outside, the city was as quiet as a church. --S.L. Price

COLOR PHOTO: AL BELLO/GETTY IMAGES (GERMAN JOY) TEARS TO CHEERS After beating a stunned U.S. team, Germany won itall. COLOR PHOTO: JOE CAVARETTA/AP (U.S. SORROW) [See caption above]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)