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Marozsán propels Germany to women’s soccer gold at Rio Olympics

Finally healthy, Dzsenifer Marozsán showed off her technical skills en route to a big-time against Sweden to help Germany to a gold medal.

RIO DE JANEIRO — The player who could be women’s soccer’s next global superstar looked down at her gold medal, grabbed it with two hands and smiled. Germany’s Dzsenifer Marozsán has always been known as a technical wizard with the ball, capable of striking it with such textbook purity that coaches, fans and other players swoon with delight and envy.

“We all know what Jenny can do if she’s fit,” Germany coach Silvia Neid said of the oft-injured Marozsán, 24, after she had scored one goal and created another in a 2-1 victory over Sweden in Friday’s Olympic final. “Technically, she’s probably she best of them all.”

Marozsán was a shell of herself in last year’s Women’s World Cup, the result of an ankle injury that took her out of the starting lineup and limited her effectiveness when she did play. One can only wonder if a healthy Marozsán would have created a different game against the U.S. in the World Cup semifinals, when she only came on late in the match, a 2-0 U.S. victory.

But on Friday Marozsán was at her imperious best against Sweden. After a tense 0-0 first half, Germany broke the ice when Marozsán, given time and space on the ball just outside the box, delivered into the upper corner a curling right-footed shot so sweet that it could have been called the gold standard.

Germany holds on, defeats Sweden for first Olympics women's soccer gold medal

Thirteen minutes later, Marozsán delivered again from nearly the same spot. This time it was a free kick that she banged off the left goalpost, only for Swedish defender Linda Sembrant to direct the rebound back into her own net. Sweden would pull one back a few minutes later and miss a couple golden chances late, but Germany was a deserved winner of its first women’s Olympic soccer gold medal.

“I’m very happy about the one-and-a-half goals I was able to give to my team,” Marozsán cracked afterward.

Women’s soccer observers have been waiting years for Marozsán to break through and win a senior World Cup or Olympic title after a youth career in which she won youth World Cups at the Under-17 and Under-20 levels. But injuries had kept Marozsán—whose father, János, played for Hungary’s national team—from realizing those expectations until this Olympic tournament.

“Jenny was always an extremely good technician for years, already when she was in the youth teams,” said Neid on Friday. “She always stood out. She was a dominant player, and she was extremely successful in the youth teams. Her problem was that she had several injuries. But she’s very tough and she always fought it. We missed her [at full-strength] in 2015, but Jenny gets better the older she gets. She’s 24 years old now, and I think four years from now she’s going to be a grenade. I’m going to watch her from the stands and be happy.”

Marozsán, who was sitting next to her coach, laughed out loud when Neid said *grenade*. But it’s true. Marozsán at her best is a force of nature, and her technique is so good that it reminds you of Ken Griffey Jr.’s swing of the bat.

“It was an incredibly difficult game, a hard game, because the Swedes played very deep,” Marozsán said. “It was very difficult for us to break through that double wall in order to get to the goal. It took a lot of patience and a lot of will and determination from the team. And we never stopped believing.”

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Nor did Neid, 52, who won an Olympic title in her last game as a coach. Neid has always been known as an iron lady—one reporter asked her at last year’s World Cup why she didn’t smile on the sidelines—but everyone knows that you smile when you win the game. Neid did exactly that after the final whistle on Friday, and she even went so far as to jump onto the German dogpile.

“It’s very easy for me to hand the reins to somebody else,” said Neid, who took over Germany in 2005 and won the 2007 World Cup, European crowns in 2009 and ’13 and the 2016 Olympics. “It’s completely different when you decide yourself when to stop. I would like to hand over a good team to [new Germany coach] Steffi Jones … We’re in very good shape now, and I’m looking forward to the future. For 34 years I have been in women’s soccer as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach. And now I want to do something else. I want to keep on learning other things.”

The Germans were deserving winners of a tournament that in the big picture wasn’t an ideal showcase for the sport. The two most talented teams, the U.S. and France, underperformed and went out in the quarterfinals. Sweden showcased solid defense and surprised everyone by reaching the final, but defend-and-counter isn’t exactly taking the sport to new heights. And Brazil seemed like it might finally win its first major tournament when the U.S. was removed from its path, but the Brazilians ended up disappointing again to finish fourth.

You can certainly say it was a competitive tournament, though. Both teams in the final lost games in the group stage—Germany to Canada, Sweden to Brazil—and the number of teams that are capable of winning a major women’s tournament continues to grow. But Germany had that extra something special here. On Friday, that was Marozsán.

“Today when there was a pass or a shot or a free kick,” Neid said, “such are the kind of players that really help a team along—to help you win, to help you get a medal, and sometimes even the gold medal.”

Marozsán looked down at her medal and smiled again, having announced herself to the world.