The zookeeper who can tame the Lionesses! Germany striker Alexandra Popp’s animal instincts might come in handy as he looks to break English hearts in the Euro 2022 final
- Germany captain Alexandra Popp is joint top scorer at Euro 2022, ahead of final
- Popp suffered a serious knee injury last April, but scored both semi-final goals
- The striker was an apprentice zookeeper, and will face Lionesses at Wembley
Has it not been for the Covid-19 pandemic, Alexandra Popp would have missed her third successive European Championship through injury. But the year delay means the Germany striker and former trainee zookeeper has the chance to secure a winner’s medal, win the Golden Boot and break English hearts.
Popp’s two goals against France set up an England-Germany final at Wembley and put her level with Beth Mead in the scoring charts. Neither player would have been at the tournament had it taken place last year. Popp was on the sidelines for 12 months after suffering a serious knee injury in April last year, while Mead was not part of the England or Team GB Olympic squads last summer.
Popp’s brace in the semi-final was a perfect illustration of her clinical prowess. Two chances, two goals: the first emphatic volley at the back post, the second a bullet header. The 31-year-old is the type of striker who can score all types of goals and is both quick and strong.
Alexandra Popp scored both goals against France on Wednesday to take Germany to Wembley
‘I’ve become very dangerous now, like in the past,’ the Wolfsburg star said. ‘It wasn’t the case for a while because I was injured.’
Popp is the only player to score in every game at Euro 2022. When she netted in her side’s opening match, against Denmark, she dropped to her knees and put her head in her hands. After missing previous tournaments through injury, her first goal at a European Championship had been a long-time coming.
‘I am more emotional than I used to be because I know how I have arrived at this point,’ said Popp. ‘Being here, having the opportunity to perform and being fully fit at this stage makes me very proud. 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 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 happy ending.’
‘Poppi’, as the German captain is called by her team-mates, has scored in every match so far
Nicknamed ‘Poppi’ by her team-mates, she joined Schalke’s elite school at Berger Feld aged 17 and was the only female pupil after gaining a special permit to study there. Popp honed her skills by training alongside future Germany stars Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer and Julian Draxler before rejoining the women’s game.
After graduating, Popp balanced her football career with a three-year apprenticeship to become a zookeeper at Tierpark Essehof in Lehre. She joined Wolfsburg in 2012 and has won 13 trophies including two Champions League titles.
Described as a ‘machine’ by former England star Eni Aluko, Popp will be out to silence Wembley on Sunday.
She has scored at the national stadium before, when Germany beat England 2-1 in a friendly in 2019, and was also part of the side that won 3-0 there in 2014.
Both England and Popp are hoping it can be third time lucky. Popp missed Euro 2013 and 2017 through injury and had never played in a European Championship before this summer. For the Lionesses, they are looking to win the tournament for the first time after losing the 1984 and 2009 final, with the latter defeat against the Germans.
‘We’re in the final at Wembley against England,’ Popp said. ‘It doesn’t get any better than that.’
Popp was an apprentice zookeeper, and still shows her love of the animals on social media