Alexandra Popp is one of the most recognisable faces in international women’s football. A prolific striker and captain for Germany, she has a number of accolades and achievements to her name.
But surprisingly, Euro 2022 marks the first time Popp has featured at a European Championships, having missed the 2013 and 2017 editions through injury. In between the two, she helped Germany to Olympic gold at Rio 2016.
Sky in Germany’s Lisa De Ruiter explained: “Popp had a torn ligament in 2013 and decided to play the Champions League final back then. She missed the European Championship because of the injury.
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“Although she won the triple with Wolfsburg, she missed the title with the national team.
“In 2017 she was injured again, this time on the meniscus and the lateral ligament. It was a heavy blow for her and the team.”
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Popp won Olympic gold with Germany at Rio 2016
It was so much a blow for Germany that in 2017, their stranglehold on the European Championships was broken. They had won each of the previous six Euros – adding to their two previous titles – as the DFB’s pioneering support for women’s football shone through.
However, without the then-vital Popp in the side, they were knocked out in the quarter-final stage for the first time. Hosts the Netherlands went on to win the title in 2017 under now-England head coach Sarina Wiegman.
When asked if she had considered what could have been in previous years, Popp told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle: “Not now, to be honest. At the time, I did of course. In 2013, we became European champions, so maybe I would have had that on my CV already. That would have been nice.
Popp has continued to flourish under Martina Voss-Tecklenburg
“It’s no use thinking about it for years, dwelling on it, so to speak. I have to accept things as they are. I have also met it head on with a fighting spirit by standing right here and being able to play in this European Championship. I’m very proud of this at the moment.”
Popp and Germany would have been forgiven for have some hesitancy leading into this year’s competition – could lightning really strike a third time? It was touch and go again for the striker.
“It looked like this tournament was going to look bad for Popp as well,” De Ruiter said. “She was injured until the beginning of the year, she had Covid at the training camp in June.
“But she got fit in time and started the tournament perfectly with three goals in three games.
Popp has told Sky in Germany the feeling in the Germany camp is better than when they won Olympic gold
“Popp is very important to the team. Not just on the pitch, but also off the pitch. She can help the young players enormously with her experience.
“She is a powerful woman who sets the mood and is a real team player. She is a special personality and therefore one of the best-known and most successful players in Germany.
“Everyone knows and likes ‘Poppi’ – that’s her nickname in Germany.”
As De Ruiter says, Popp finally made her long-awaited tournament debut against Denmark on July 8, coming on as a 61st-minute substitute and scoring shortly after. She nodded home from a pinpoint Sydney Lohmann cross to open her Euros account.
There were emotional scenes when Popp scored her first Euros goal against Denmark
Her celebration was one of true relief at reaching a target that had evaded her for so long. It had taken her nine years to do so, which is incredible for a player of her calibre.
De Ruiter revealed: “Popp told me that coming on against Denmark and scoring the goal was the most emotional moment for her. Her first appearance at a European Championship after all the injuries and then she comes in and scores.
“She had tears in her eyes as she cheered. Goosebumps!”
The Euros suit her too. She scored in each of the group stage matches, starting the last two and wearing the captain’s armband. In doing so, Popp became the first female player to score in three successive Euro group games, along with England’s Beth Mead.
Although there are still two games to play before the final – starting with Austria on Thursday evening at the Brentford Community Stadium – Germany already look like they have one foot at Wembley after storming through the group stages.
Popp scored her third goal in as many games at Euro 2022 with Germany's second in a 3-0 win over Finland
They have showed different qualities in the three group games, all which have been impressive. Against Spain, they were clinical when they had their chances despite seeing far less possession. In their tournament opener against Denmark, their pressing game was near perfect and saw them overwhelm their opponents.
Popp has been the spearhead of ruthless Germany attack and although she has finally made her mark at the Euros, there is one final piece of the puzzle that would complete her redemption – Germany’s ninth European title at Wembley on July 31.
“It is definitely a relief for her to finally be able to play a European Championship,” De Ruiter added.
Lisa De Ruiter on Germany vs Austria
“The team and the fans must not underestimate Austria. They are very strong defensively and have only conceded one goal so far. It can be a test of patience for Germany.
“Nevertheless, Germany is my clear favourite. If they play like they did in the previous three games, they will beat Austria and go through to the semi-finals. And then anything can happen!”
“Popp told me that the atmosphere in the team is even better than at the Olympics when Germany won the gold medal. She believes in the title and the team wants to give everything to reach the goal.
“It might be Popp’s last chance at the title. Popp is now 31 and will do anything to win the title in England. Then she would have made perfect peace with the tournament.”
It is a sentiment echoed by the striker, who when asked about her plans for July 31 told Deutsche Welle: “How about raising the trophy in the air? That sounds like a good plan.”
The knock-out phase…
Wednesday July 20
Quarter-final 1: England 2-1 Spain AET
Thursday July 21
Quarter-final 2: Germany v Austria – kick-off 8pm, London Community Stadium
Friday July 22
Quarter-final 3: Sweden v Belgium – kick-off 8pm, Leigh Sports Village
Saturday July 23
Quarter-final 4: France v Netherlands – kick-off 8pm, New York Stadium
Tuesday July 26
Semi-final 1: Winners quarter-final 1 v Winners quarter-final 3 – kick-off 8pm, Bramall Lane
Wednesday July 27
Semi-final 2: Winners quarter-final 2 v Winners quarter-final 4 – kick-off 8pm, Stadium MK
Sunday July 31
Winners semi-final 1 v Winners semi-final 2 – kick-off 5pm, Wembley
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