Alexandra Popp downs France as Germany deliver on biggest stage again to set up Euro 2022 final with England

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·4-min read
Alexandra Popp downs France as Germany deliver on biggest stage again to set up Euro 2022 final with England
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Two giants of European football, nothing between them for 76 minutes, then a cross into the box, a towering header and Popp went France’s Wembley dream.

The last train out of Milton Keynes left the station well before kick-off here, but when the London line resumes service tomorrow morning it will be Germany heading towards the capital and a European Championship final meeting with England on Sunday.

Alexandra Popp’s first-half opener had already made her the first player ever to score in five successive matches at the Women’s Euros, fittingly matching the feat of France legend Michel Platini at the men’s equivalent in 1984 and not bad going for a player who had not even started the opening game.

But it was her sixth of the tournament that mattered most, nodded in with extra-time looming to snatch a 2-1 victory and shatter French hopes of reaching a first ever major tournament final.

For either of these teams, getting that far would’ve been seen as an overachievement a month ago. France, because agent of chaos Corrine Diacre was still at the helm and rumours of a rift with her squad rife after several big names were left out of it altogether. Germany, as a result of a much overblown demise, the eight-times champions having not won this tournament since *checks notes* the one before last.

Not now, however. Both had lit up the group stage, each effectively announcing their candidacy with resounding opening victories, and if England have certainly been one of the best two teams at this tournament then there was little doubt that whoever was to prevail here would have firm claims to being the other, fluke finalist out of the question.

They have gone about their business in contrasting manners, France reliant on blowing teams away early until a lack of edge saw them taken all the way to extra-time by the Dutch, Germany more controlled in their gentle suffocation before moving in for the kill late on.

For 40 minutes here, though, neither quite found their groove. France showed flashes of their dynamism, the outstanding Delphine Cascarino a yard quicker in the head than her every marker and about the same across the ground.

But on the opposite flank, Kadidiatou Diani was wasteful from their most promising positions and as Germany weathered what was, by French standards, a minor breeze and fine drizzle rather than any great storm, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side began to assert.

Popp saw a fizzed free-kick tipped round the post, while Lina Magull made her trademark surges into the box, only to be quickly bullied out of it by the imperious gatekeeper Wendie Renard.

Only when she abandoned the fort did the opener arrive.

Wendie Renard encourages her team-mates after they fell behind in the first-half (Getty Images)
Wendie Renard encourages her team-mates after they fell behind in the first-half (Getty Images)

Giulia Gwinn, presumably in tribute to Alessia Russo, had adopted the backheel as her default method of pass for much of the first-half, but found winger Jule Brand, tasked with replacing the Covid-struck Klara Buhl in the only change to either side from their quarter-final successes. The 19-year-old fed Svenja Huth and Renard, drawn out, did little to stop her delivering into the middle, where, with the French skipper for once absent, the ball drifted over her partner Griedge Mbock Bathy, onto the boot of the charging Popp, who found the roof of the net on the volley.

So water-tight has this German defence been that had you had time to consider it, you might instantly have declared the goal the winner.

Instead, before the half-time whistle had sounded, France were on terms, Diani and Cascarino switching wings to fine effect as the former dipped inside and hammered against the post, the ball rebounding in off Merle Frohms, who then had to pick it out of her net for the first time in the tournament.

It was the kind of own-goal that ought to leave no black mark against the ‘keeper’s name but she set about redeeming herself after the break anyway, first with a sharp low stop to prevent the French cheat code that is a Renard set-piece header from coming off and then again when standing up to Diani at the near-post after Marina Hegering’s dreadful backpass.

The one beauty of a rail strike is that no one need leave early to catch the last train if there aren’t any at all, but as a crowd of 27,445 began to think about settling in for the long-haul the same German combo struck again, Huth’s ball lifted, Popp’s finish perfect.

A month ago, Popp appeared to have a cursed relationship with this competition, yet to play in it during a career of well over 100 caps after missing the last two editions through injury.

Now, thanks to her goals, Germany are one win from regaining their crown.

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