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Alex Popp, a captain in a state of grace

Captain of the German team for this Euro 2022, Alexandra Popp has established herself as one of the major players of this European championship. A performance particularly underlined by his six achievements since the start of the tournament, with at least one goal per game, and a double in the semi-final against France. A regularity never seen before in a final phase of Euro…

A 31-year-old experienced player, present in the national team since 2010 (119 selections), Alex Popp did not however win the Euro with Germany in 2013, the last European title won by the Nationalmannschaft. Injured in the ankle a few weeks before the tournament, she will also miss Euro 2017 following an injury. On the other hand, she had contributed to winning the Olympic gold medal in 2016 in Rio, regularly established in attack by Silvia Neid.

This Olympic consecration marked the end of a generation of German football, with the sporting retirement of players like Melanie Behringer, Annike Krahn or Saskia Bartusiak, world champions in 2007 with Germany. Alexandra Popp was then one of the players who took over the baton to assume a management role within the national team.

Indeed, if it is first the Lyonnaise Dzsenifer Marozsan who is appointed captain after the Rio Games, Alex Popp will inherit the armband at the start of 2019, after having initially been vice-captain of the German selection.

Came back from afar

However, at the start of the Euro, nothing indicates that Alexandra Popp will be able to find herself at the forefront of the attack. It is first Lea Schüller who is approached to start the meetings in this position, and this is what happens against Denmark. Lea Schüller played the first hour of play, scored, before being replaced by Alex Popp, who herself found the net late in the game.

Several reasons then explain the situation of Alex Popp, captain and yet far from being assured of a place in the German eleven. The most obvious reason is that she had been injured for many months between April 2021 and March 2022, hit in the right knee, and operated on twice, in May 2021, then in January 2022 after a relapse. Returning to competition last March with Wolfsburg, she therefore benefited from the one-year postponement of the Euro, which she would not have played if it had taken place in the summer of 2021, as initially planned.

Alex Popp has suffered several injuries in recent years, knee and foot, resulting in a dotted presence in the national team. This is reflected in her statistics in front of goal, since before the Euro, she had not scored since November 2019. It was at Wembley, in a friendly match against England!

The confidence of his coach

Back on the pitch, Alex Popp tested positive for COVID-19 in mid-June, during the preparation period for the Euro. An infection which ultimately turns out to have no consequence on his performance or on his presence in the German selection. Beyond this physical aspect, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg must also be credited with her choice to keep Alexandra Popp in a center-forward role, when she has not occupied it in a club for several years.

Indeed, Alexandra Popp evolves rather in the midfield with her club Wolfsburg, in support of the attackers or sometimes even in front of the defense. A flexibility that runs through the career of the German international, who played at left-back at the start of his career in the 2000s, before settling permanently in a more attacking role.

On the Wolfsburg side, it is players like Polish striker Ewa Pajor or Tabea Wassmuth (also present in the German selection for the Euro) who are now at the forefront of the Louves attack. Despite this development, Alex Popp also remains the top scorer in activity in the German selection (59 goals), and she enjoys the confidence of her coach, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, who wants to see her evolve in attack.

Stand up to any test

Before the Euro, Alex Popp says he worked specifically to find his feelings, in a role of center forward, the ” favorite position by Alexandra Popp. The German captain and her coach know each other well. In 2009, when Alexandra Popp won the first of her three European Cups, with the Duisburg club, it was Martina Voss-Tecklenburg who was her coach.

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s desire to play Alex Popp in attack is fully justified for another reason. Indeed, it has a midfield already rich in talent, as this Euro has again demonstrated. Germany did not need another solution at the heart of the game. Conversely, the German attack appeared very young, with talented but inexperienced profiles behind the holder Lea Schüller.

Germany therefore had an ideal “plan B”, a player ready to take over or play parts of the match in a role of “ joker “. When Schüller was affected in turn by COVID-19, before Germany’s second match against Spain, it was therefore almost natural that Alex Popp replaced her at the forefront of the attack. An option perfectly in line with an aggressive and forward-oriented Germany team, even when they don’t have the ball.

High and loud

For example, the two German goals against Austria come from a winning pressing initiated by Alexandra Popp on the Austrian goalkeeper, Manuela Zinsberger. She also has an exceptional aerial game, both to score (four headed goals since the start of the Euro), and to deflect good balls towards her teammates. Alex Popp therefore allowed the Nationalmannschaft to have an obvious solution, unlike, for example, the France team after the injury of Marie-Antoinette Katoto.

This contribution of Alex Popp on the ground is not limited to his goals. We could see it against the France team in the semi-finals, a match during which it was responsible for defending (rather successfully) on Wendie Renard, when the Blue got dangerous set pieces. It is also a leadership recognized by her teammates, capable of speaking high and loud ” when ” something is wrong “, as indicated by Kathrin Hendrich, during the return of Popp in selection in the spring.

A leadership regularly praised by her teammates since the start of the tournament, like Sara Däbritz, Lina Magull but also the German coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg. So many qualities that will be put to the test again this Sunday on the lawn of Wembley. Along with the World Cup, the Euro is one of the few trophies missing from Alexandra Popp’s list. An ideal opportunity to complete it.

Photo: UEFA

=> Euro 2022: Tournament schedule and results



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