Alexandra Popp is an apparition. Not just since her two goals in the 2-1 win against France in the European Championship semifinals on Wednesday evening, but now even more than before. The German captain oozed determination and assertiveness in Milton Keynes, as a true leader should.
Popp can make all the difference, as she’s showing at this tournament in England. She has scored six goals in five games, as many as England’s Bethany Mead. In addition to the fight for the European Championship title in the final on Sunday, there is also the duel between the two strikers for the award of the top scorer. “The first goal is clearly to win the European title,” said Popp, who had missed the last two European Championship tournaments due to injuries.
In the run-up to the tournament, it was anything but a matter of course that Popp would even be able to take part in this European Championship. The 31-year-old suffered a serious knee injury last year and, after another operation in January, did not return to the field until the end of the second half of the season.
Then she caught the corona virus in preparation for the European Championship, but she fought back again. As so often in her career. Because she had the big goal in mind to play at least one European Championship. Few had expected that she would then deliver such a performance.
Especially since she was only a substitute at first and only made the starting XI in the second game against Spain due to Lea Schüller’s corona infection. It is now impossible to imagine life without her.
A situation against France 30 minutes before the end showed that Popp is absolutely fit again: The striker placed the ball a little too imprecisely on Magull in the French side’s sixteen, giving France an opportunity to counter. But Popp sprinted back, blocked Selma Bacha’s subsequent shot attempt and only then took a deep breath. An absolute willpower, with which she infected her teammates throughout the game.
In this way, Popp was there with full force for her first goal. “I saw that Svenja tanked through the side and had a lot of room to cross,” explained Popp. “I then ran into the room and, thank God, hit the ball perfectly.” National coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg had Svenja Huth play on the left flank against France. Nevertheless, her cross came to make it 1-0, but then via the right side that she was familiar with.
There was a tactical concept behind it: Germany should rotate a lot up front and then cross the right to take out the French captain Wendie Renard, who is strong in the air. “We knew that Wendie, just when you come over her side, is a bit over the first post and there is a little space between the central defenders,” Popp said afterwards. The goal scorer used this space and put Germany in the lead, which is worth seeing.
In the semifinals, both teams did without their usual attacking pressing, probably out of too much respect for each other. In midfield, too, Sara Däbritz, Lina Magull and Lena Oberdorf preferred to play safe passes rather than take too many risks. The German team seemed to have the French, who had otherwise started furiously, under control. All the more bitter that the team of head coach Corinne Diacre was able to score the equalizer with the very first chance of the game shortly before the break.
However, Germany seemed unperturbed and continued to dominate the game in the second half. With a short phase of weakness in which France had several chances to make it 2-1. But Popp put a damper on the hopes of the French women and again Huth was the assist from the right. “Poppi’s head was outstanding again, she’s just a beast in there up front,” said Lena Oberdorf, who once again played well in defensive midfield.
In the end, Germany defended passionately, fighting as a unit for every ball. “The way we stand together on the pitch makes me incredibly proud that we did it as a team,” Popp said after the game. “I’ve been with the women’s national team for ten years – and to be honest, I’ve never experienced such a team spirit, such a team structure.”
Now the German team is chasing the ninth title at a European Championship. Participation in the final is the reward for a strong tournament up to this point. Voss-Tecklenburg was also very satisfied with their wives and spoke of a “fully deserved victory” after the game. On Sunday evening there will be the ultimate dream final in Wembley between hosts England and Germany.