Japan's Saki Kumagai etched her name indelibly into the annals of FIFA Women’s World Cup™ history when she slotted the winning penalty to punctuate an unforgettable Germany 2011 Final. It is the kind of fantasy scenario that youngsters the world over emulate. But the chances of it happening once, let alone twice, seem remote at best. Not unless your surname is Kumagai, it seems. On Thursday, the Lyon midfielder stepped up to once again score the decisive penalty in a major final. This time the prize was another rich offering - the UEFA Women’s Champions League.
No doubt Kumagai has relived that 2011 summer’s night in Frankfurt over and over in her mind. Perhaps the experience of having lived that exact scenario helped Kumagai as she coolly netted the winner in Reggio-Emilia, leaving Wolfsburg to lament what might have been, on yet another gala night for women’s football.
The match ended 1-1 after Alexandra Popp finally restored Wolfsburg to parity with two minutes remaining, cancelling out Ada Hegerberg’s strike on 12 minutes. The goal for Lyon’s Norwegian ace ensured she finished leading scorer in the competition with 13 goals, complementing her top-scorer achievement in France’s domestic league season.
Until the penalty shoot-out the match somewhat mirrored last year’s epic Women’s World Cup meeting between the two nations. As in Montreal, the French side dominated without applying the killer touch, while German resilience eventually brought a rich dividend in the form of Popp’s late equaliser.
Kumagai’s decisive penalty - in concert with a double-save from Sarah Bouhaddi in the shoot-out was just part of a multi-layered match narrative. Both clubs were seeking a third title and becoming just the second club to do so behind’s 1.FFC Frankfurt’s tally of four. Numerous players were facing their former clubs, while Lyon bade farewell to three genuine superstars in Lotta Schelin, Amandine Henry and Louisa Necib.
Tears and joy
Little wonder there was much emotion on display in front of a large and colourful crowd. The ever-popular Schelin managed a trademark smile through post-match tears, as she concluded a trophy-laden eight years with L’OL. "I wanted to win after 90 minutes, but this scenario ended up even more beautiful,” said the Swede. “We felt it was our day, even during penalties. After Saki’s penalty went in, I have never felt excitement like it.”
Hegerberg was equally animated in the afterglow of the tense finale, despite a missed penalty as her prolific form, somewhat ironically, disappeared at the eleventh hour. “This is probably the biggest day of my life,” said Hegerberg. “I was a bit [annoyed] to concede the goal two minutes before full time, a bit angry, and mentally it is hard to come back. I am really proud of what we have achieved this season.”
But while Lyon claimed a treble which included, quite incredibly, a fifth successive domestic double, Wolfsburg have a German Cup win to console themselves with. “We managed to keep the match open until the end with our great mentality, and we showed everything we had on the pitch to fight this team [Lyon] that has such huge ability,” said Wolfsburg’s Ralf Kellermann. “We are proud of what we did, but of course it hurts terribly right now.”
Remarkably, this was the ninth straight edition with at least one German finalist. Indeed, on three of the six occasions German clubs did not win the competition, it has been Lyon who has been victorious in the final.
The final word, appropriately, goes to Kumagai. “I always train to take penalties like this [with a long run-up] – I want to see what the goalkeeper does first in such a situation,” she said. “Before the game we swore we had to win it for us, but especially for them [the three departing players]. We managed to handle the emotions and focused from the first minute to the last, and now we just feel happiness.”