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Popp takes center stage as Germany draw with Sweden

Tom Gennoy Duisburg
February 21, 2023

Germany’s World Cup year began in solid if unspectacular fashion with a 0-0 draw against Sweden in Duisburg. Captain Alexandra Popp made her 125th Germany appearance on familiar turf.

Deutschland Frauenfussball Länderspiel Deutschland gegen Schweden
Image: Eibner-Pressefoto/Memmler/IMAGO IMAGES

Alexandra Popp has reached many milestones in Duisburg.

It was in this city that her Bundesliga career began, and here that she won her first titles. The second leg of the 2009 UEFA Cup Final, which FCR Duisburg won 7-1 on aggregate, took place in this very stadium.

As her then coach (a certain Martina Voss-Tecklenburg) recalled, Popp’s performance on that night was somewhat hampered by nerves, brought on by the unfamiliar experience of playing in front of a near sell-out crowd. 

Voss-Tecklenburg told reporters, "She said to me after that game: "Coach, I couldn’t play well, my legs were shaking so much the whole time!""

It was quite a different story on Tuesday night, as Popp displayed the qualities that have earned her the German captaincy, exhausting her every reserve, desperately trying to snatch a victory against a steadfast Sweden side. Ultimately her efforts went unrewarded, and Germany’s perfect start into the World Cup year wasn’t to be.

Alexandra Popp is awarded player of the year and goal of the year awards for 2022
Alexandra Popp is awarded player of the year and goal of the year awards for 2022Image: Sarah Rauch/Nordphoto/IMAGO

"In the end, we have to be satisfied with a draw," coach Voss-Tecklenburg told reporters after full-time, her conclusion tinged with disappointment. She blamed nervousness and a lack of intensity for her team’s inability to break down their opponents and achieve the statement victory they’d hoped for. 

'Not just a friendly'

The current international break has been a feast of first-rate fixtures. At the Arnold Clark Cup in England, the SheBelieves Cup in the USA, and the Cup of Nations in Australia, many of the game’s very best teams have been testing their depth and flexing their strength, spurred on by the competitive edge of a mini-tournament format.  

Germany’s calendar hasn’t been so full, meaning tonight’s meeting with Sweden was their only opportunity to make a statement of intent. For fans, the game might have had the feel of an exhibition match. For Voss-Tecklenburg and her team it was a rare chance to prove their competitiveness against top opposition. 

“We don’t just want to make a statement to others, we want to make a statement for ourselves,” the coach said ahead of Tuesday’s game. “It’s not just a friendly, it’s a test.” 

In the first half in particular, Germany were missing the sense of urgency one might expect from a team playing under test conditions. Forward moves broke down due to imprecision, while a sense of disorientation dogged play in midfield. Defenders found themselves frequently under pressure - though the back line held when it had to. 

Cause to feel confident 

It bears remembering of course that Euro semifinalists Sweden are no slouches, and Germany were ultimately able to hold them in check. Furthermore, there was still plenty on display that gives Voss-Tecklenburg cause to feel confident. On several occasions, Klara Bühl’s flashes of individual skill left Sweden players in dizzy disarray.

Keeper Merle Frohms was self-assured and competent whenever she was called upon. And above all, there was the undying energy and determination of Popp — familiar aspects of the captain’s game, but none the less impressive for it. 

"Popp was a mentality monster once again tonight," Voss-Tecklenburg said in response to a question from DW after the game. "She tried to take care of things, coached her teammates, and led from the front."

Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg met with Germany chancellor Olaf Scholz before the game is Duisburg.
Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg met with Germany chancellor Olaf Scholz before the game is Duisburg.Image: Poolfoto-SVEN SIMON-Thomas Boecker/IMAGO IMAGES

Titan of the German game 

Thirteen years after the crowd at the UEFA Cup Final had her knees trembling with nerves, Popp has developed into a titan of the German game, perfectly able to handle the pressure of a big crowd. Tonight’s match was watched by more than 20,000 spectators, including Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz.  

It was also Popp’s 125th appearance for Germany, and she was presented ahead of kick-off with two personal awards, for Player and Goal of the Year in 2022. She might not have crowned the occasion with a victory, but it was at least fitting that these achievements should be celebrated on the family patch, in front of many local loved ones — here at her footballing home. 

Tom Gennoy
Tom Gennoy Reporter@TG94__