DFB captain enthusiastic: Sweet tears pave "Poppis" a long way back

Alexandra Popp has a long, long way to go before her first game at a European football championship.

DFB captain enthusiastic: Sweet tears pave "Poppis" a long way back

Alexandra Popp has a long, long way to go before her first game at a European football championship. And there she writes the first chapter of a success story. At least that's what they all hope for at the DFB. It's not just about sporting success.

As a great German football evening drew to a close, tears rolled. In the 86th minute, Alexandra Popp's goal against Denmark to make it 4-0 emotionally rounded off the DFB team's exhilarating start to the European Championship in England. And the striker was briefly overwhelmed by the size of the moment. The game was decided long ago after goals from Lina Magull (21st minute), Lea Schüller (57th) and Lena Lattwein (76th), but the goal of the captain was special. It was the first goal in a European Championship for the Olympic champion and two-time Champions League winner. And above all, proof that a long, difficult road led back to the goal.

"I can't believe it. I'm super happy that we managed to win like that. The team performance was outstanding," enthused Popp, who all just shouted "Poppi". "The 4-0 win was also deserved in terms of height. That makes you want more." The captain traveled to England with 114 caps under her belt, the striker scored in the Champions League, the Olympics, World Cups and the Bundesliga. In every conceivable competition, she scored so often that "her name alone triggers something in the opponent," as national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg enthuses about her attacker in an ARD documentary.

Only at a European Championship has she never scored: before the tournament in 2013 she tore the lateral ligament in her knee, in 2017 a torn meniscus shattered dreams of a major European Championship. If Corona hadn't forced the European Championship from 2021 to 2022, Popp wouldn't have been there in England either: cartilage damage in May 2021 caused a long break. So long that the 31-year-old had to tremble and work hard until the return was perfect. Nine months after her knee operation, the striker celebrated her Bundesliga comeback for VfL Wolfsburg this January - and had to go under the knife again because of pain in the operated knee. During an MRI scan, a detached cartilage fragment was diagnosed that had to be surgically removed. "You can imagine that that was the hardest message for her," wolves trainer Tommy Stroot suffered with "Poppi".

In April, after everything was really over, Popp, captain of the national team since 2018, made her comeback with the team. "You rarely see me cry, but at that moment the tears really did fall," said the VfL Wolfsburg striker about her substitution in the 3-0 win over Portugal. In the end, almost all German players and supervisors hugged the two-time "Soccer Player of the Year". "After the final whistle, yes, to be honest, I was pretty overwhelmed," she said. "It was kind of a moment where I thought: now I've actually made it back onto the pitch."

It was slightly ironic that Corona, the virus that sadly gave her the last chance to participate in the EM in 2021, once again put obstacles in the way of the leader of the DFB squad on the last few meters to England : As the only player from the entourage, Popp had to fight the virus at the training camp in Herzogenaurach, train alone in the room and have regular cardiological monitoring.

"Like a little child" Popp was happy when she finally set foot on English soil upon arrival at Heathrow Airport and was allowed to get a taste of European Championship air for the first time. And late on Friday evening in Brentford, near London, a long story full of hurdles and setbacks and the unconditional will to overcome resistance came to an end for the time being. After about an hour of an impressive performance from a German point of view against the clearly inferior Danes around the former world footballer Pernille Harder, Popp was finally allowed to step onto the EM lawn.

And from now on he will write a new story: The one about the EM fairy tale, which should finally raise women's football in Germany to a new level in the long term. "With our success, we are involved in how women's football will continue in Germany - you have to say that so hard," Popp told the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" before the German tournament kicked off. "We're aware of that, we know there's a certain pressure. Each one of us doesn't just play football, we also want to make a difference and develop women's football further."

Popp himself, one of the great figures in German women's football, works tirelessly to advance her cause. "We simply have to do more advertising for our games. We also need more TV presence to make women's football even more visible," the trained zoo keeper had demanded before VfL Wolfsburg's Champions League game at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou . There, in front of a record crowd of over 90,000 people, German football learned a lot about what is also possible in the women's field.

The start was made with the relaxed, at times enthusiastically jumping over the complicated opening hurdle Denmark: 5.95 million people watched the game on ZDF, very few of whom are likely to have regretted tuning in. And everyone has learned that the German team is fully into this tournament after strong preparation: "The game against Denmark will be the key for the tournament," Voss-Tecklenburg said at the end of June after the successful last test against Switzerland (7 :0) predicts and if the national coach is right, the DFB team has an exciting and, at best, long journey ahead of them.

When asked when this European Championship would be successful, Alexandra Popp replied: "We have to talk about the semi-finals." The national coach goes one step further, also because she knows the qualities of her special attacker: "Poppi always gives everything, she goes ahead. She is one of the few who is able to say unpleasant things. She is a Guy, and only guys win a tournament." At the end of a long journey there should probably be more tears. Fresh tears of joy.