Goalkeeper Almuth Schult has been looking forward to returning to international action for three years. Despite injury, illness and the stresses of motherhood, she has patiently waited to stand between the posts for her country again. The 31-year-old finally got his chance on Tuesday, when Germany swept past a weak Bulgaria in their final World Cup qualifier.
“I’m very emotional because it was a long time and a long struggle to play an international match again,” said Schult through tears.
Since her last appearance for Germany in 2019, Schult has given birth to twins, has had shoulder problems and has most recently signed for FC Angel City in Los Angeles. By the time she was fit enough to return to the herd, Merle Frohms had taken her place.
Tuesday’s comeback completely lacked intensity and allure. Bulgaria posed no threat to Germany, Schult hardly had to make a single save – but she didn’t care at all.
“Honestly, as a goalkeeper, I’m used to it,” she admitted after the game. “As a keeper you can’t influence what happens in front of you, but even if I hadn’t touched the ball once, it was still an international match and very valuable for me,” said Schult.
Contrast to the Euro final
Barely more than a month after stepping out in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium and inches from a ninth EURO trophy, Germany played their last competitive game of the year.
Bulgaria away was a different matter than England at Wembley.
In front of around 200 fans, on a mossy, shaky lawn, Germany looked out for the hosts, of whom Sara Däbritz had previously said: “You can’t play one-touch football.” Plovdiv is a far cry from London in more ways than one.
Much like the game against Turkey that secured World Cup qualification, Germany were stricken by the same ineffectiveness early on.
After Lea Schüller finally broke through the blockade and took advantage of an unavoidable mistake in the Bulgarian penalty area, the goals flowed. Germany’s job was done before the half-time whistle, but that didn’t stop Schüller and Laura Freigang from scoring easy hat-tricks in the second half as the EURO finalists overwhelmed their opponents.
With the introduction of Fabienne Dongus after the break, the squad rotation carousel went into full swing: all outfield players called up to the squad for those two qualifiers were given a chance to be part of it. But it’s against better sides than Bulgaria who will need to impress those on the periphery if they want to make the 2023 World Cup squad. Friendlies against France and the USA in October and November this year provide those opportunities.
“Games like this don’t help anyone, but they are part of our work,” said Martina Voss-Tecklenburg afterwards.
Almuth Schult didn’t care about the caliber of the opponent. After so long on the touchlines, her long-awaited return to international football was a liberation in itself; Sometimes all that matters is playing for your country.
Edited by Jonathan Harding