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In the semi-finals, the French team seemed helpless against the surgical precision of German captain Alexandra Popp. Author of two goals, the attacker propelled her selection to the final. An experienced player, she nevertheless participated in her first Euro after a series of injuries.
Faced with goal, Alexandra Popp rarely trembles. The German captain again made the incredible demonstration, Wednesday, July 27, in the semi-final of the Euro against France (2-1). Twice, the striker crucified the tricolor defense and allowed her team to get their ticket to Wembley.
“The Popp madness” headlined the German daily Bild, the day after his double. With a powerful strike and an angry header, “Poppi”, his nickname in Germany, propelled the Frauen-Nationalmannschaft into the final against England.
The French goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin could not do anything when the Wolfsburg striker appeared in front of Ève Périsset to catapult the ball into the back of her net (40e, 1-0). After the equalization of the Blues in the 44e minute, she again punished her opponents with an angry header (76e1-0).
Despite this high-class individual performance, Alexandra Popp above all paid tribute to her teammates. “I’m going to disappoint you but it’s the team that counts. If I don’t get the assists, I can’t score,” she explained modestly. “I became dangerous again after being kept away for a long time by all these injuries.”
A series of wounds
The untenable attacker has indeed chained missed appointments. At 31, she is only playing her first major European competition. In 2013, an ankle injury forced her to watch her teammates from afar as European champions for the 6e time in a row and the last to date. Four years later, this time it was a recalcitrant meniscus that made him give up the competition in the Netherlands, which ended in a quarter-final defeat against Denmark (2-1).
Last year, she also tore cartilage in one knee. If the Euro had not been postponed for a year due to the Covid-19, she would have been forced into the injury package. At the beginning of the year, again, she had to observe a new period of rest due to a relapse, when she thought she was out of the tunnel.
When Martina Voss-Tecklenburg recalled her in April for a playoff match for the 2023 World Cup against Portugal, emotion took over. “I don’t cry often, but at (the end of the match) a few tears ran down my cheeks,” she admitted after entering the hour mark, almost a year to the day after her last selection.
Because at 31, even if she has already won an Olympic title with her selection in 2016, she knows that this may be her last chance for glory at the Euro. “The fact is, of course, I’m no longer from the very beginning. I don’t know if this will be the last (competition) or if I will continue. But this is really not the time to think about it and take a decision. What matters to me is here and now”, she explained to Deutsche Welle radio after a full card in the first round marked by a goal in each meeting.
An animal caretaker
In club, Alexandra Popp already has a well-filled trophy cabinet. She won three Champions Leagues, six championships and eight German Cups. A sporting success and a serenity on the ground that she draws in part from her passion for animals.
As So Foot explains, the player trained in parallel with her football career at the Essehof Zoo to become a caretaker. “I love working with animals. You can have a connection with kangaroos, raccoons or donkeys,” she says.
With each trip, the attacker has thus become accustomed to going to the animal parks in the area. During the rest day given to the players after the first round, she went to London Zoo, leaving the competition and the goals far behind her. “It’s very important for my mind. In football, we are under stress, we travel a lot, we get tired physically and mentally. Here, with the animals, I recover, I recharge my batteries, I find inner calm” , she told AFP in 2019.
The German captain will need calm to face the host country of the competition on Sunday at Wembley in the final. In front of their public, the Lionesses are looking for a first major international title. They will be able to count on Beth Mead, the other jewel of the competition, whom Alexandra Popp joined at the head of the top scorers of the competition with six achievements. During a final face-to-face, the two attackers could therefore well decide between themselves, in order to win the golden shoe of the competition.
With AFP and Reuters