The incredible story of Alex Popp: Germany’s record-breaking Women’s Euros debutante

As the ball hit the back of the net for Germany’s fourth goal against Denmark, Alexandra Popp looked for a split-second like she was about to wheel away in celebration. But then the emotion hit her. She sank to her knees, her head hit the grass and she smacked the ground repeatedly as her team-mates swarmed and congratulated her.

This wasn’t just a cherry-on-the-cake goal for Germany, as they swept aside the 2017 Women’s Euros runners-up in their opening fixture of this summer’s edition. It was Popp’s debut in this competition and she’d marked it with her first goal – at 31 years old.

Since then, she’s scored five more times, becoming the first player ever to score in five successive Women’s Euro games. On Wednesday night, her brace sent Germany into the 2022 final, helping them to overcome France by a 2-1 scoreline.

A three-time Champions League winner and a footballer widely – and rightly – recognised as one of Germany’s best, her record-breaking run and chance to finally shine on this stage has been one of the stories of the summer.

Since making her senior international debut in 2010, Popp has twice been cruelly denied the chance to represent her country at a Euros.

In 2013, fresh off the back of her second European club title, it was an ankle injury that stopped her being part of the Germany team that won its eighth trophy on the continent.

Four years later, a knee injury was the problem. In fact, had this summer’s tournament not been delayed a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, she’d have missed it again due to another terrible knee injury, this one sidelining her for 11 months.

The way she is playing in England, you can see the positive impact of those negative experiences – the enjoyment, the value she is placing on every moment.

“It means a lot to me [to be here], I have to admit,” she explained on Wednesday evening. “You saw it on the first goal but also in the other games – I am more emotional than I used to be because I know how I have arrived at this point.

“Being here, having this opportunity to perform like this, being fully fit at this stage, that makes me very proud, but I also have to say a big thanks to everyone who has been there with me.

“The medical staff who have always motivated me in the rehab. My coaches at my club and the national club, they kept believing in me and gave me the opportunity to get to where I had to be to be here.

“That makes me extremely proud and I’m very happy that I’m allowed to play here and that we’ve reached the final.

“It’s an incredible story and I hope we will have a very nice happy ending.”

It’s been six years since Germany won a major title – Olympic gold at Rio 2016. For a team as well-decorated as this one, both historically as a national team but also given the individuals in the squad who are used to winning trophies, that’s a long, long time.

Thanks to Popp, though, they are one step closer.

Alex Popp this tournament 🔥 #WEURO2022 pic.twitter.com/yMDT7e2l9b

It’s not just her goals that have played a huge role in the road to Wembley. As captain of this side, she leads in many ways. One of those is in her performances on the pitch. Another is in her personality as a winner and a motivator. But her experience and how she deals with situations in a game is crucial too.

“We need their experience and their calmness when there are obstacles,” Martin Voss-Tecklenburg, Germany’s head coach, explained when asked about the importance of the older players in her squad, such as Popp.

Her comments came after her striker had spent the first 10 minutes of the post-match press conference taking questions, before heading off to celebrate with her team.

Voss-Tecklenburg spent that time smiling at Popp and nodding as she batted away questions about her records, the Golden Boot race – which she is now joint-top of with England’s Beth Mead, and anything to do with individual glory, reiterating that it was about the collective.

“I’ve been in this team for 10 years now,” she said. “The team spirit that we have in this team, I’ve never experienced anything like that. This makes it so special.”

On top of her own form, that is another factor that is making this tournament so much fun for Popp. Having endured such a long and arduous path to this point, it’s something she is savouring even more.

“To be honest, I have the impression that at the moment I can experience these moments a lot more,” she added. “I’m enjoying these moments a lot more.

“The football, I like it even more than before. That sounds silly. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like football before but it kind of became a bit pedestrian.

“Now, to have the moments on the pitch, to play here, I value that a lot and that makes it very special to be here.”

On Sunday, she’ll get to enjoy a Women’s Euros final at a sold-out Wembley Stadium, as Germany play hosts England for the trophy.

If she and her team keep playing like this, she’ll still be enjoying it come full-time as well.