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Euro 2022: Popp fires Germany to final

Matt Pearson Milton Keynes
July 28, 2022

All the talk this tournament has been of a new German generation. But in Wednesday's semifinal, it was veterans Svenja Huth and Alexandra Popp who combined to fire Germany past France and set up a final against England.

Women's Euro 2022 - Deutschland v Frankreich | Tor

Germany 2-1 France
(Popp 40', 76' - Frohms o.g. 45')
Stadium MK, Milton Keynes

Despite making their debuts in the years when Germany dominated the tournament, neither Svenja Huth nor Alexandra Popp had ever really made their mark on a European Championship.

But on Wednesday night in Milton Keynes, just north of London, the two veterans combined in devastating fashion to lead a new, younger Germany team to the final against hosts England.

Twice Huth crossed from the right, and twice Popp drove into the box to power the ball home, first with her left foot, then with her head.

It was a brilliant striker's brace which moved her level with England's Beth Mead on six tournament goals but, more importantly, overcame an impressive French side in a fiercely contested semifinal.

"Every hard yard they ran, going to training every morning, having to get over injuries, having to fight back all the time, it's all been so great that they got here," Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg told DW at the post-match press conference.

"But it's not the end of the road for this team yet."

Popp cracks the code

Territory was emphatically marked from the off. Charlotte Bibault clattered into Lina Magull in the opening minute, before Popp sought immediate retribution, sending Bibault sprawling. After waiting 12 years for her Euros debut, she wasn't prepared to let her young teammates be bullied.

And neither would she let them be beaten. Popp had cut an isolated figure for an opening half an hour in which momentum largely swung between midfields. She was getting little change from French center back pairing Wendie Renard and Griedge Mbock Bathy.

But two miles from Bletchley Park, where a secret team of codebreakers unravelled the mysteries of Axis communications in the Second World War, Captain Popp showed intelligence is still invaluable in this part of England, twice cracking the French puzzle.

As Huth picked up the ball on the right, she had no need to look up, she knew Popp had peeled on to the fullback. She just had to hit the right area with the cross. Huth did her bit and Popp did hers, nipping in front of the defender and steering home a difficult volley in the 40th minute.

Women's Euro 2022 - Deutschland v Frankreich | Tor (2:1)
Image: Beautiful Sports/IMAGO

"Svenja [Huth] had a lot of time to cross, and so I knew that with one player going to the near post, there would be space in behind which I could attack, so that's what I did," she explained to German broadcaster ZDF post-match.

Popp probably shouldn't really have been here, an unlikely and unwelcome helping hand from COVID-19 presenting her with a chance she's been determined to take. The virus postponed this tournament by a year, giving Popp a chance to recover from another injury, and its effects on Lea Schüller meant the veteran could break a Euros record, scoring in five consecutive matches.

"This was nice for me on the one hand, but it's not nice when it happens under such circumstances," she told DW earlier in the tournament of the chances COVID afforded her. "In the end, it's what's suddenly in the net that counts: That was the ball."

France hit back - with help from the post

Unfortunately for Germany, that doesn't just apply to them. Four minutes after the scattered German fans rose, roared and revealed themselves to be clustered in all corners of the ground, they were back in their seats as Kadidiatou Diani's powerful drive ricocheted off the post onto the back of the sprawling Merle Frohms and into the net.

Cool heads were needed after Germany's first concession of the capaign. "It's been important throughout the whole tournament that we've had a good mix of experienced players that bring a certain ease," Huth told DW. "We're very happy the squad is put together how it is, we have a lot of great characters."

Women's Euro 2022 - Deutschland v Frankreich | Tor (1:1)
Image: Richard Callis/SPP/Panoramic/IMAGO

Frohms was given ample opportunity to show her character when France came flying out for the second half. The new Wolfsburg keeper beat away Selma Bacha's shot from close range, scrambled away Renard's header and kicked out Diani's effort to bail out Marina Hegering after a sloppy backpass.

For the first time in the tournament, Germany were reeling. And they needed their leaders.

"We need their experience and their calmness when there are obstacles on the pitch," Voss Tecklenburg told DW. "We saw it in the game today, that their maturity is so important. It's really nice to see their personalities grow on the pitch and that, as a result of that, their football becomes even better and we grow as a team."

'No-one had us on their radar'

And so, 15 minutes from time, when Huth once again picked up the ball on the right, everyone knew what was coming. But there was still no way of stopping Popp.

"No-one had us on their radar," she said after powering home the winner. "But now we're in the final, playing against England, at Wembley, against 90,000. It's unbelievable.

Just as unbelievable as the fact that Popp had never played a single minute at the European Championships due to injury.

"It means a lot to me," she told the post-match press conference. "You saw it on the first goal but also in previous games that I am more emotional than I used to be. That's because I know what it's taken me to arrive at this point. Having the opportunity to perform like this and being fully fit at this stage makes me very proud.

"I've been around this team for more than 10 years and I've never experienced team spirit like this, it's very special."

And it could yet get even better.

Edited by: Matt Ford