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Day 23: You never forget the first time you see Alex Popp
In October 2016, Wolfsburg visited London for the Champions League Round of 32. It was Chelsea’s second season in the Champions League and they played the game at a very empty Stamford Bridge, in front of almost 4000 people. Wolfsburg had knocked out Chelsea the season before and this would be the second act in what was to become a very prolonged saga between the two clubs. A Zsanett Jakabfi hat-trick saw Chelsea thoroughly beaten but it was Alexandra Popp who I could not take my eyes off.
It was like she was a different breed of human. She towered above the Chelsea players but it was not only that. It was her athleticism, her movement, her commitment to the game which allowed her to bully players. These facets of her game have not diminished with age.
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Six years on from that match, Popp is finally getting her dues (her…Popps?) on the international stage. Having missed three previous European Championships due to injury, she has made sure she is doing this one right. She scored both goals in Germany’s 2-1 semi-final win over France last night to make it five consecutive Euros games where she has scored. She is joint top of the Golden Boot rankings with Beth Mead.
Part of what has made Popp so brilliant at this Euros is her sheer commitment to making things happen. Facing up to Wendie Renard against France, Popp no longer had the head and shoulders advantage she had over some defences. But it didn't matter. Because if you can somehow deal with Popp physically, there is still the movement that allows her to connect with the ball, the technical ability that ensures that connection sends the ball into the back of the net.
It is clear how much her teammates love her. As the stadium announcer invited the crowd to congratulate Popp as she was presented with her ‘Player of the Match’ award, the whole Germany squad sprinted across the pitch. It was the same energy Popp had when she was rushing back to make a tackle on the edge of her own penalty area. They mobbed her, celebrating, giving everything to uplift her in the same way she gives everything to uplift her team.
Popp will get the chance to complete the full set of goals in Euro games against England on Sunday. Millie Bright started for Chelsea in that match back in 2016 so she will know exactly what kind of havoc Alex Popp can wreak on a defence. Bright has been one of the stand-out players of the tournament but she will have her work cut out keeping Popp quiet. It is just one of the match ups which should make Sunday’s final so fascinating.