STADIUM:MK — When you watch Alexandra Popp play, and her presence has hardly been understated with a goal in every Germany game so far, bear in mind that she always expected this to be her last European Championship.
Robbed of her place in 2013 and 2017 by serious injuries and now 31-years-old, it was supposed to be Lea Schuller racing Beth Mead for the Golden Boot. Had the tournament not been postponed by a year, she would have missed out again.
Yet somehow, positive Covid tests that might have been catastrophic seem to have a way of working in Germany’s favour. When Schuller was ruled out of the early part of the group stages, Popp was given her moment – one last opportunity to make a statement to the world.
So as the Wolfsburg forward made her way out of the tunnel in Milton Keynes, she was already roaring as she strolled onto the pitch. She has won the Champions League, the Frauen-Bundesliga, and an Olympic gold, but this means more.
Popp’s screams reached a crescendo with her fifth goal in as many games, and if it feels as if she has come out of nowhere at these Euros, so did the move that led to her opener.
Svenja Huth collected a ball that looked lost, switched over to the right having constantly harangued Eve Perisset from the left, and crossed it over the head of Lina Magull. Popp had timed her run to perfection and fired it with her laces past Pauline Peyraud Magnin – a taste of revenge after seeing her curling effort from a set-piece on the edge of the box tipped round the post.
German fans who know their statistics may have been tentatively browsing Wembley hotels this Sunday night. With just five minutes until the break, they will have known that France had not yet scored in the second half at this tournament.
Mostly, Les Bleus’ energetic transitions have set them up for an easy ride later on, though against Netherlands they were simply not clinical enough.
On the stroke of half-time, that changed. Kadidiatou Diani found herself 25 yards out, shrugged off her defender, and let loose at goal. Her strike rattled off the post, before bouncing off an unfortunate Merle Frohms for an own goal – the first she has conceded all tournament.
Either of these sides would have been a worthy opponent for England. Once again, Germany were ostensibly weakened by Covid, their Player of the Match against Austria Klara Buhl ruled out but replaced by the effervescent Jule Brand. Grace Geyoro ran the midfield, shoving off Lena Oberdorf, turning through the middle, dispossessing Sara Dabritz. France’s threat was all the greater as Geyoro combined with Delphine Cascarino; the obvious way to stop the forward, Germany decided, was with numbers.
Dabritz had no choice but to use her face to keep out Selma Bacha’s strike, but France rued the follow-up even more, Wendie Renard’s header kept off the line by Frohms’s feet. Diani’s effort from the right was met with the same resistance. This was always going to be stick-or-twist for Corinne Diacre’s side; it was a dangerous game playing out from the back against a German outfit who press so high. Sandie Toletti did well to stay composed after entering the book early.
It only felt right for Popp to have the last say. Bruised by France’s equaliser, she had tried to have it when Germany kicked off again from the restart with an audacious lob that whistled onto the net. Instead, it was text-book, a powerful header to crush France’s spirits after Peyraud Magnin had denied Huth and her defence rose to block the follow-up. Goal number six – she is now level with Mead.
Worryingly for England, this was another mark of a Germany side that have looked unstoppable. Whether that is true or not, Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses will find out on Sunday.