There are the only two teams that have ever topped FIFA's women's world rankings, and while that statement's loaded by the fact that list has only been released since 2003, it still documents the dominance the United States and Germany have had over the game. Brazil and Sweden have been within an arm's length of greatness, but since the United States won the World Cup in 1999, Germany and the U.S. have took turns tipping each other off the game's throne, the Germans having won the finals in 2003 and 2007.
If that recent history wasn't enough to make rivals of the Germans and Yanks, playing each other every three times in seven months should fuel the antipathy. This Saturday is that third meeting. Virtually on the heels of October's meeting in Germany, March's meeting in Portugal, the teams complete their world tour at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Back in October, 29,387 fans turned up in Ausgburg to see U.S. forward Abby Wambach affirm the States' number one ranking, beating the world champions 1-0. In March, Germany's chance for redemption was squelched in less than half an hour, with the U.S. jumping out to a 2-0 lead on the way to a 3-2 win in the Algarve Cup final.
But within that match (as if the States needed a reminder of the Germans' capabilities) Inka Grings had a brace, keeping her team within striking distance of their in-form rivals. That term - "in-form" - amply applies to Grings, the 31-year-old Duisburg striker who was the leading scorer in the Frauen-Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, and the Algarve Cup. If the pizza place on my block had Frogger, she's have the top score on that, too.
Between Grings and captain Birgit Prinz, Germany seems like a two-woman team, something that speaks more to the greatness that duo than any shortcomings of their teammates. But with the shadow cast by those two prolific scorers, Germany does feign the impression of having less balance on their roster; at least, having less balance than their rivals.
Fans of Wambach and her 105 goals (in 137 international matches) may see that statement as inaccurate, too, but the U.S. does not compete with Germany by going like-for-like against Grings and Prinz. Instead, the team's depth is their strength, particularly in midfield, where you see names like Yael Averbuch, Shannon Boxx and Heather O'Reilly. The most notable midfielder, however, is somebody who has just been called back into the team, with 342-time capped Kristine Lilly rediscovering a role in Pia Sundhage's set-up.
It's that midfield in front of defender Amy LePeilbet and goalkeeper Hope Solo that can counter a Germany team so strong U.S. icon Mia Hamm told the German federation two days ago, "We are trying to raise our level to Germany's."
That may seem a strange statement from a player representing the world's top ranked team - a team that has multiple, recent victories over the Germans - but such is the reverence for the titles - the players Grings and Prinz's of the world - that one of the best to play the game puts them alone, on a pedestal.
Saturday, at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the U.S. will continue trying to knock the Germans off that pedestal; or, at least squeeze room for themselves on the platform.