England vs Germany: Lionesses face the best-drilled team in Europe... and red-hot striker Alexandra Popp

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England vs Germany: Lionesses face the best-drilled team in Europe... and red-hot striker Alexandra Popp
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As early as the third day of this European Championship, you began to sense that we might just end up here.

England had blown off the cobwebs with a laboured opening win over Austria and were well on their way to the knockout stage by the time Germany got their campaign up and running and proved talk of their demise overblown with a statement hammering of a Denmark side rated as dark horses.

With each passing game, the collision course has seemed a little more firmly set, and while it has taken three weeks, it is now in stone, after Germany’s 2-1 victory over France in Milton Keynes last night.

For all its billing, it was not a heavyweight clash that, in quality terms, matched up to Germany’s last, against Spain in the group stage; higher stakes meaning more errors and a more cautious, arm’s-length approach. Nor was it a victory as emphatic as England’s routing of Sweden 24 hours earlier.

Yet, in its own way, it was just as impressive: a Germany side, like England, infused with the exuberance of youth and a sprinkling of maturity prevailing over a French outfit that would have been almost as worthy of a place in the final, too. Almost. For while logic, form, bookmakers and even the final scoreline all hinted at there being little between the sides, Germany’s progression was inevitable throughout a semi-final which, fittingly, ran somewhere close to script.

The best-drilled side on the continent, Germany made a better fist of seeing off France’s trademark fast start than any of their previous opponents and then made the breakthrough, courtesy of Alexandra Popp, whose scoring has become easy to predict, since she has managed to find the net every time she has stepped onto a football pitch this month.

The slight shock came in France’s immediate reply, the German defence breached for the first time. But even that took a slice of good fortune, Merle Frohms having covered Kadidiatou Diani’s shot with her dive but, understandably, not calculated for an unfortunate ricochet back off the post. It mattered not in the end, as Popp nodded home her second 14 minutes from time.

It was another largely controlled German performance, one which affirmed that the best two teams at this tournament have reached its final, and one impossible not to view through the prism of what lies ahead.

Might the raids of Lucy Bronze down England’s right do more damage than those of the brilliant Bayern Munich full-back Giulia Gwinn down their left?

How might Lena Oberdorf and Keira Walsh, the heartbeats of their respective sides, possibly dominate the same midfield at the same time?

And which forward who began the tournament as back-up might steal its greatest show; Popp, now the leading lady, or Alessia Russo, still somehow waiting in the wings?

Three days from now, in front of 90,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, we will find out.

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