Germany have already qualified for the 2023 World Cup thanks to a 3-0 victory against Turkey at the weekend, but still had to see out the final group stage game of UEFA World Cup qualifying against Bulgaria. It was a heavily rotated side for Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, and a different shape as well — a nominal 3-1-4-2 with Sara Däbritz (Olympique Lyon) at the base of midfield and Bayern Munich’s Lea Schüller in a striker partnership rather than leading the line herself. It took a little while to get going, but once they did, the German train did not stop — and they rolled over Bulgaria 8-0.
This was a great chance to shine for various players who are not usually in the XI. Keeper Almuth Schult and defenders Jana Feldkamp and Sjoeke Nüsken all didn’t make an appearance at the recently-completed Women’s European Championships this summer, while others like wingers Jule Brand, Sydney Lohmann, and Tabea Waßmuth were often the top bench options at the EURO.
Like Turkey, Bulgaria played a stubborn defensive game but proved difficult for Germany’s attack to unlock. They barely got on the ball, but still earned their chances on the counter — winning a corner in the 22nd minute after an excellent run and a long ball over the top that left the central defenders scrambling. For the most part, however, even when Bulgaria got on the front foot, they didn’t have the quality to string together passes and punish Germany for a lapse in shape.
Turkey’s 5-4-1 crowded the box, posing challenges that are familiar to Bayer and Germany fans alike for both the men’s and women’s teams. An excellent cross in the 27th minute just failed to find Lea Schüller at an open back post, and Laura Freigang’s header at point blank range flew over the crossbar seconds later. In the 29th, Germany continued to pour on the pressure with a flicked ball from Freigang to Schüller, but the attempted chip over the keeper was again over the bar. Solutions to the bus, whether via nifty interplay centrally or making use of field width, proved hard to come by.
Finally, Germany broke through in the 35th through Schüller — though even that was slightly fortuitous. An excellent one-touch pass fed Waßmuth down to the byline, and her cross found Schüller — whose shot was cleared off the line! But somehow in the chaos it bounced back to her, and with her second attempt, she buried it into an empty net.
Germany’s dominance of possession often meant the backline pushed all the way into the final third. Nüsken played very much like a right-back — even a right-mid? — and eventually the numbers opened the door for Germany. A loose clearance popped behind Bulgaria’s own back line for Lea Schüller, who drew out the keeper in desperation and fed it to Freigang for the 2-0 on 44’. Within a minute, a cross from deep found Schüller unmarked in the box, whose arching header looped over the keeper into the net again. And so the half ended with the floodgates well and fully open.
As if to prove the point, Germany came out after the break intent to finish things off. And soon they did. Schüller tapped home her hat trick with a deft toe poke right in front of goal on 52’, and minutes later Lohmann fired into an empty net after the keeper’s parry of a shot. Freigang added her second and Germany’s sixth ten minutes after that, a cross from Sara Däbritz falling to her feet — by this time, multiple Germany players were more or less unmarked right in front of goal.
Alexandra Popp made her way on for Schüller after the 6-0, Germany’s EURO hero getting a little less than half an hour to try and join in on the scoring fun.
Svenja Huth, also having come on as a substitute, later tucked home a penalty to make it 7-0. Freigang volleyed home from close range for her hat trick and the 8-0 in the closing minutes of normal time.
Popp had the last chance of the 90, but the cross was a little high for her and her header could only glance wide of the mark. At 8-0, in a match with first and last place in the qualifying group secured, the officials gave an incredible six minutes of extra time — though nothing of note would transpire.
Woman of the match
Naturally, we’re giving this one to hat trick hero Lea Schüller — who finally got the scoring started and from then on was unstoppable. Schüller didn’t get too much of a chance to showcase her skills at the EURO, but not for nothing was she leading scorer in the Frauen-Bundesliga for FC Bayern.
With the international break now over, Schüller’s recovery from Covid and regaining of her goal-scoring form could not be more timely for her club — who in addition to opening Bundesliga play next week also have a Champions League play-off to navigate in order to qualify for the group stages.
Bulgaria were never expected to be much competition, but it was a quality display and excellent match practice for Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s squad.