TIANJIN, China (AFP) - Germany's World Cup machine is getting into high gear as the defending champions prepare for their crunch semi-final against arch-rivals Norway on Wednesday.
Displaying trademark precision in the 3-0 win over North Korea, Germany's women feel they are finally hitting their stride after an uneven performance in the group stages.
After romping to an 11-0 win over Argentina, Germany were held 0-0 by England before beating Japan 2-0 to top Group A.
The Germans, just two wins away from the first ever back-to-back titles, head into Wednesday's semi-final unbeaten and without conceding a single goal in four matches.
"We beat Argentina 11-0 but the other two group games weren't so strong as the North Korea game," said four-goal striker Birgit Prinz.
"So hopefully we will peak at the last minute."
Germany's four-match shut-out is unprecedented in the World Cup and, after 439 minutes without conceding, they need just three minutes of playing time to beat China's record set between 1999-2003.
However, the Germans are aware of the threat posed by Norway, their conquerors in the 1995 final ranked just two places below them at fourth.
Norway have beaten and drawn against Germany this year and will be eager to avenge their 2005 European final defeat, the latest in a long line of reverses in the competition.
"This is a World Cup semi-final. It will be a high-speed game, the teams are well balanced and you can't predict who's going to win," said Germany coach Silvia Neid.
"The winner will be decided by little things. It will definitely be a close game."
Norway coach Bjarne Berntsen said his task had been made harder by scheduling which has left his team playing three games in a week.
"Against Germany it is going to be very tough. We have three games in seven days while they have three games in 10 days," Berntsen said.
"That's a big disadvantage for us and we have to work really hard to be ready for Wednesday."
The teams have met only once before in the World Cup, the 1995 final which Norway won 2-0. It is only the second all-European semi-final after Norway beat Sweden 4-1 in 1991.
"I've played a lot of games against Norway. My first memory is the World Cup final in 1995 and we lost, so it's not a good memory," said Prinz.
"We're hoping to leave here with a better memory."
Norway, led by joint top-scorer Ragnhild Gulbrandsen (five), have never lost to European competition in the World Cup and are also expecting a tight match.
"I think it will be two very good and very closely-matched teams. We played against them before coming here and drew 2-2, so we know we can match them," said striker Isabell Herlovsen.
"They are a good side and it will be tough for us. But we will go into the game with confidence."
The stakes are especially high for Germany, who are bidding to host the next World Cup in 2011 and have extended the contract of coach Neid until then.
"Feeling this trust is a nice thing," she said.
The other semi-final between the United States and Brazil is played in Hangzhou on Thursday.
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