At the Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark the atmosphere among the crowd was several degrees warmer than a temperature pinned down by a glacial north wind. When rays of sunshine finally broke through the cloud cover during the second half, the spectators in the main stand – German chancellor Angela Merkel among them – breathed a collective sigh of relief. The supporters of Paris Saint-Germain among an attendance of 18,300 could have been forgiven for doing likewise. Their team, after a cold, shivery start, had been unable to raise the temperature until after the break. A first half in which Frankfurt, in the final for the sixth time, carried the game strongly to the Parisian debutants had suggested that big-match experience was a relevant factor.
As soon as Swiss referee Esther Staubli signalled for the ball to start rolling, Frankfurt switched into their habitual attacking mode. Within the first ten minutes, Colin Bell's team had generated five goal attempts from open play and had induced opponents to give away four free-kicks, one of which was astutely bent over the wall by Dzsenifer Marozsán, obliging the Paris keeper, Katarzyna Kiedrzynek, to test her elasticity in a plunge to her right which stifled incipient celebrations in the German camp.
Frankfurt's domination had been built on a solid game plan. The back three operated with Peggy Kuznik drifting deeper to offer cover behind her fellow centre-backs Marith Priessen and Kathrin-Julia Hendrich, with the result that target striker Marie-Laure Delie could find few rays of sunshine amid her shadows. But German attacking power was being generated in the engine room. The wing-backs, Bianca Schmidt on the right; Simone Laudehr on the left, tirelessly engaged in box-to-box endeavours which not only clipped Paris's wings but also allowed their team to exploit numerical advantage in midfield.
This translated into wide open spaces for the Frankfurt captain, Kerstin Garefrekes, pushed into a more pivotal role following the departure of the influential Jessica Fishlock after the quarter-finals. But Farid Benstiti also had to find a quicker-fix solution to a key absence: that of controlling midfielder Caroline Seger, banished from the final by a yellow card against VfL Wolfsburg. His response was to start with a 1-4-4-2 structure deploying hard-working Aurélie Kaci as counterfoil to the creative ball-playing talents of Shirley Cruz Traña in the controlling midfield roles. However, the Paris machine was misfiring due to Frankfurt's rapid covering on the wings, with Fatmire Alushi and Kenza Dali crowded out and the two full-backs deterred from surging upfield.
In this context, it was no surprise when Garefrekes prompted a breakthrough in the 32nd minute. Her lofted delivery from the right of the Paris box was sliced sufficiently for the ball to spin away from goal – and to hang up nicely for Célia Šašić to leap high behind the last defender and send a looping header at slow-motion speed into the far corner of the net. Her 14th goal of the campaign could have been the cue for a handsome victory. But, for all the Frankfurt domination, the first half was keeping a joker up its sleeve. Five minutes remained when a short corner allowed Dali to find a rare opportunity to deliver a cross which smacked conclusively off the forehead of Marie-Laure Delie past a startled Desirée Schumann. After seven successive clean sheets on the road to Berlin, the equaliser represented a psychological blow to the Frankfurt jaw.
It also offered an opportunity for Benstiti to re-model and re-motivate his inhibited team. However, after an opening spell in which Kiedrzynek was required to highlight her goalkeeping skills, shrewd substitutions around the hour-mark changed the complexion of the game. Benstiti replaced the frustrated Alushi with central defender Laura Georges and, almost immediately, sent on Josephine Henning for subdued left-back Laure Boulleau to act as controlling midfielder. This allowed Cruz Traña to advance her position and, just as Verónica Boquete had been doing at the other end of the field, to run at opponents in the pockets behind the main attackers.
Suddenly, Paris grabbed the lion's share of possession, obliging Frankfurt to assume the role of shadow-chasers. The diminutive Cruz Traña began to buzz like a mosquito around the fringes of the attacking third – but was unable to draw blood. The French team's approach play improved in technical quality and coherence, yet without provoking defensive chaos in the final third. Schumann, in the Frankfurt goal, was on amber alert but was given no need to reach for the emergency button. Her major causes for concern were set plays: headers from Georges and Kaci from a corner and a free-kick respectively. With Bell's team well-organised and practised in the art of defending their area with an effective 5-4-1 barrier, Paris, although now ahead on points, were unable to find openings for the knockout blow.
In the meantime, Bell was also ringing the changes. Firstly, he sent on Mandy Islacker to take over from Ana-Maria Crnogorčević as main accomplice to Šašić in attack. Then, in the final dozen minutes, he offered approximately welcome relief to Schmidt and Laudehr, who had worked themselves to extenuation in the transitions which were written in capital letters in the wing-backs' job descriptions: Svenja Huth and then Kozue Ando providing the fresh legs. It was the earlier substitute, however, who enjoyed the clearest scoring chance as the clock ticked down. Relentless pressure took its toll on the Paris defence as a long forward pass provoked hesitancy which left Islacker with an open route towards goal - only for her hurried shot to sail high over the bar.
Ironically, Benstiti had scripted the dénouement in his preview of the final. "Frankfurt have that German mindset," he had said, "with discipline, determination and that never-give-up attitude. For them, the game isn't over in the 90th minute."
After Islacker's miss, the crowd was bracing itself for an extra half-hour in the chill wind. And the stadium speaker had already announced that four minutes of added-time would be played. Two of them had elapsed when a cross was delivered into the heart of the Paris box. For Islacker, it was going to arrive at an awkward height. Maybe conditioned by her earlier haste, her response was cool and calculated, the cerebral computer working out that the best formula for an accurately-directed finish would be to hook a volley with the outside of her left foot. The ball looped gracefully over the aghast Kiedrzynek and into the net. The Frankfurt No17 disappeared under an avalanche of team-mates, even the three central defenders finding energy to charge upfield and add their weight to the celebrations.
Paris, to their credit, insisted on a final throw of the dice. But when Cruz Traña narrowly failed to make contact at the back post five minutes into added time, the game was over. At the final whistle, Bell and his team-behind-the-team raced on to share their jubilation with the players. For Paris, the tears could be forgiven and understood. For Frankfurt, the unexpected finale heightened the sweetness of victory. For their opponents, it strengthened the bitterness of defeat.