German captain Alexandra Popp is also seriously injured before the European Women’s Soccer Championships in England. But the 31-year-old fights back in time. And she will play her first European Championship – in her favorite position.
When the players of the German national soccer team got off the plane at London’s Luton Airport, one of them could hardly believe it: at the age of 31 and after 114 international matches for the DFB-Elf, captain Alexandra Popp is in the third attempt for the first time Adventure European Championship started.
The VfL Wolfsburg player missed the 2013 and 2017 European Championships due to injury. And this time it seemed to go the same way again, but the most experienced player in the DFB squad fought back resolutely – despite several setbacks. “I want to play the EM. I haven’t played a damn EM yet,” she clarified again in the ARD documentary “The Captain’s Comeback”.
World and European titles are still missing
Olympic champion in Rio 2016, plus two Champions League titles with VfL Wolfsburg, seven German championship titles, and eleven DFB Cup victories: Alexandra Popp has won pretty much everything that can be won in her football career. She also became European champion – albeit with the DFB U17 youth team in 2008.
She has played world championships with the women’s national team, but not yet a European championship: in 2013, despite an ankle injury, she played for Wolfsburg in the Champions League final. In her first VfL year, she celebrated the treble of Champions League, championship, and DFB Cup, but had to miss the European Championship due to injury. In retrospect, she would still do it that way again, she says today.
A year before the European Championships in England, Popp sustained her most serious injury
In 2017 she injured her left knee – again before the European Championship. And in April 2021 she sustained her most serious injury to date: a cartilage tear on her right kneecap. A lengthy and painful affair that can mean the end of a career for many athletes.
But the massive offensive artist decided to use her last chance at a European Championship and fought her way day by day – for ten months. In March she made her starting eleven comebacks at VfL Wolfsburg, played every game until the end of the season, and won a double with VfL Wolfsburg.
When she came on as a substitute in the national team in the 3-0 win against Portugal in April, she was finally allowed to wear the captain’s armband again – an emotional and tearful moment that teammates and the audience celebrated.
Support from the national coach
Forward has always been Popp’s favorite position. She scored ten goals in six games at the 2010 U20 World Cup. Popp made her international debut at 18 and was the youngest in the squad at the 2011 World Cup on home soil. But after moving to VfL two years later, she had to give way to the more experienced and better players up front. Coach Ralf Kellermann used her more defensively: sometimes as a left-back, sometimes as a six, sometimes on the ten.
Defense and midfield instead of attack: things don’t always go the way you want them to. But Popp, who also trained as a zoo animal keeper in Wolfsburg, has always emerged stronger from family and professional crises. That shapes and makes you more robust, more humble. National coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg knows that. She has known Popp since 2008 from her first football stint at FCR Duisburg – back then with a little bacon on her hip.
Now, on the long way back to the DFB team, the national coach accompanied her captain. And although Popp, to make matters worse, was still infected with the coronavirus three weeks before the start of the tournament, Voss-Tecklenburg strengthened her back and called her into the EM squad. “Poppi” always gives everything, she is a type of leader who sometimes addresses unpleasant things, says Voss-Tecklenburg of ARD. “I believe you can only win tournaments with guys.”
And because she knows exactly how much Popp this EM means, she wants to tease a little more out of it: she lets Popp play in the storm. “She has the striker gene. And that also makes a difference with the opponents.” Either way, there seems to be a happy ending for Alexandra Popp – maybe even with a final in Wembley.