Alexandra Popp: The Germany star out to deny England and complete her own Euro 2022 fairytale

Popp has battled past injury pain to be the joint-top scorer at the Euros

It snapped the circle of disappointment but her journey would not end there. In a match in which Germany swept Denmark aside, Popp’s diving header to add a fourth goal in the 86th minute was the game’s standout moment. As she fell to her knees in celebration of the goal she craved for so long, there was a cathartic release but little evidence that it would amount to anything more than a memorable swansong.

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Popp may have worn the number 11 on her back, but she would likely have remained on the bench in Germany’s second game against Spain had Lea Schuller, one of the new stars of German football, not been ruled out by Covid-19. While unfortunate for Schuller, Popp took the opportunity. Wearing the armband and leading the line, Popp was the one who won the header in the crowded box against Spain to seal Germany’s confidence-boosting win. She was the one who had the energy in the dying embers of their bruising quarter-final against Austria to close down the goalkeeper Manuela Zinsberger and score their clinching second, just like she had the drive to force a similar error earlier in the match.

Against France, it was her instincts and that sense of timing that came to the fore when making late runs into the box. After nine years, she didn’t rush but instead waited for a second longer to take her chances in Milton Keynes. Both goals in the semi-final were first-time finishes, both clinical and both decisive, both examples of being in the right place at the right moment.

Popp scored an emotional first goal at the Euros in the 4-0 win over Denmark

Away from the Lionesses, Popp emerging from the brink to embark on a goal-scoring run has perhaps been the story of Euro 2022. Even as England are helping take women’s football to new heights by utilising the power of the host country, Popp still has the individual story to transcend this particular rivalry when the focus will be largely on the hosts at Wembley.

Germany are a team stacked with talented players, many of them young. That the eight-time champions arrived at the Euros flying under the radar and with little expectation spoke to this team being in between generations. There is the dominant Lena Oberdorf and the busy Klara Buhl out wide, and with Schuller starting through the middle, Germany had the look of a side that were moving on from one of the pillars of its previous teams, even though she had finally made it to the Euros.

But while it has always been, in a way, Popp’s team, the fact she has helped take Germany to the final on her first appearance at the Euros has only strengthened that belief. The emotion that has followed has Germany on the verge of a ninth title, even though the momentum is behind the hosts. England will be backed by another record-breaking crowd at Wembley and to break that spell will require something special. Germany might just have that in Popp.

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