Sports FOOTBALL Battle for the Golden Boot Mid and Popp on...

Battle for the Golden Boot Mid and Popp on the hunt

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FROMToday’s final of the European Championship among women does not need a stir. England, Germany, Wembley, which has become the biggest women’s football tournament of all time – the reasons for excitement are obvious. But there is another factor that should not be neglected: the shootout for the Golden Boot.

England’s Beth Meade and Germany’s Alexandra Popp advance to the final with six goals in the tournament. Headers, howitzers, pinpoint finishers and poachers, they found every way to get into the net. Wolfsburg’s Popp has scored in every match, a league record, while Mead has also scored against every Spanish team. Both have also shown real leadership when their teams needed it. Now one has a chance to take away the title of the top scorer of the tournament from the other.

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Steph Catley of Australia and Arsenal has as much experience with Meade as anyone else. On the training ground and at international level, the left-back has dealt with the striker at close quarters. “There are a lot of reasons why she scores so many goals,” Catley says of Meade, “but I think when she plays against her, she’s just constantly on the move. She moves, she looks for where she can get the ball, how she can get behind the player or in front, and she makes selfless runs on other players, which puts her in positions where she can score on the second ball.

The instinct to be in the right place, according to Catley, is something natural, but it is strengthened by an approach characterized by desire. “Mentally, she knows where she needs to be, but she also has the speed of work, which means that she will always get into the right position,” Catley says. “When the ball moves, she runs first with her head down to the goal, trying to get into a position where she can score. I think it is this ruthlessness and the desire to always score that puts her above the rest and puts her in the right positions.

Off the field, Catley believes Mead takes his pursuit of perfection lightly. “The best thing about her is that when she’s not on the pitch, she’s so warm and welcoming,” she says. “She is such a happy person, such a positive person, and I think that reflects on the pitch because she doesn’t take anything too seriously. I think when she plays you can see that she is having fun and what she does is creative. That positivity really comes through when she plays and when she’s having a good time, she scores.”

This combination of determination, technical ability, and ease of approach is borne out by what Catley considers Mead’s signature move: the chop. “There are a few moments that I can think of that she is repetitive, but I think the main moment is when everyone thinks she is going to shoot and then she just cuts,” Catley says. “She is so calm and balanced that it seems that she has been playing with the ball for an hour, and she just calmly puts the ball into the net. It’s one of the hardest things to do in football, but she does it in a very convincing way. And she does it often.”

Beth Mead scores England’s second goal against Northern Ireland in the group stage. Photo: Christopher Lee/UEFA/Getty Images

Meade and Popp have already met this season, in the first leg of Arsenal’s Champions League quarter-final against Wolfsburg in March. In a 1-1 draw at the Emirates with numerous chances for both sides, Meade and Popp lined up opposite each other to Arsenal’s right. Mid was an influential figure in the game, Popp is calmer, still feeling her return to form, but both showed the strength and versatility of their game, drifting from the flanks with or without the ball, creating problems in the box. Both were booked for late calls and Popp had Mead herself.

With the German captain now leading her team, the players won’t be head-to-head on Sunday, but Opta’s stats show both were active during this tournament. They share touch cards that show presence on both flanks as well as in the middle (although Mid’s strongest area is on the right side). Their shot cards are also similar. Meade landed 15 shots to Popp’s 17, but both players scored most of their goals and landed the majority of their shots between the penalty mark and the penalty area. This is the optimal place for an attacker to hit, and as Catley explained, they managed to find it by breaking in from outside. See Mead’s goal against Sweden and Popp’s second goal against France – a dominant header – for proof.

Popp struck an incredibly tough figure as she drifted through the mixed zone after winning the semi-finals in Milton Keynes. Players can often look flustered after a match or look desperately at their phone to avoid questions, but Popp seemed to be almost drifting above all the noise, displaying the same calmness she had in front of goal. That’s her, and that’s one of the reasons why she’s proved so valuable to Germany in this tournament, but that’s all the more impressive given that she’s determined to achieve a goal she’s been almost brutally denied so far.

“It’s an incredible story,” Popp herself described it. “I can’t put it into words: we’re in the final against England and it can’t get any better.” The captain of the German national team won two Champions Leagues, seven league titles, 11 cups and Olympic gold, was the world champion among youths under 17 and under 20, played in three world championships and almost 20 finals. experienced such a moment.

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If Germany was not supposed to reach the final of Euro 2022, Popp should not have made it to the Euro at all. But then, as her national coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg says, “She always gets up again and again; it comes back stronger from every crisis.”

At the age of 31, Popp made 119 appearances for Germany and scored 59 goals. But until this summer, she had never been to the European Championships. She missed out in 2013 with an ankle injury and in 2017 with a knee injury, and if the current competition had gone ahead as planned last summer, she would have missed that too with a potentially ending cartilage injury. career. After spending this season recovering her strength and wits, she contracted Covid three weeks after the start of the Euros.

At the premiere, she was a replacement. But she came out and scored against Denmark. Once she started, she couldn’t stop. There was a goal in every game and on Wednesday there were two goals to take Germany to the final. “What Poppy is doing is incredible,” said her teammate Lena Oberdorf.

“I had the feeling that people wrote me off,” Popp admitted after the game with Denmark. Voss-Tecklenburg was not one of them; she knew. She was the striker’s coach when Popp joined Duisburg 14 years ago. She could definitely play, it was clear from the very beginning. She could fight too. Hear how Voss-Tecklenburg and her teammates talk about Popp, it’s not just about talent, it’s about temperament.

Growing up in the Ruhr Valley, Popp only played with boys – she thought women’s football wasn’t good enough for her – until she was 16, but at 17 she earned a seat at the elite federation stadium Berger-Feld in Gelsenkirchen. there is only a female. The grant was small and the money was given to keep her family afloat after her father’s butchers went bankrupt.

Alexandra Popp scores Germany's second goal against Spain in the group stage.
Alexandra Popp scores Germany’s second goal against Spain in the group stage. Photograph: Neal Hall/EPA

When Wolfsburg came for her, sports director Ralf Kellermann got her a job, but she was not going to sit in the office for anything. An animal lover — she has an Australian Shepherd named Patch — she qualified as a zookeeper in three and a half years while working at Essehof Zoo. According to her, there were football lessons: animal behavior, solidarity, the pack as a labor force. It also gave salvation, the monkey cage freed.

Goals continued to be scored in every direction: there was ruthlessness in her. Again and again. The medals rolled along with them. That’s not to say she’s always won: sent off, she watched Wolfsburg squander the lead that cost them the 2018 Champions League trophy against Lyon, which she gave up to join Duisburg. Cup victories, played on the same day and in the same stadium as the men’s finals, mattered perhaps even more than league titles. Germany’s first goal was scored 12 years ago and it has yet to be scored.

Injuries didn’t break her. Popp tells the story of how she went to Berlin last year for an examination for an injured knee, never assuming that she would fail, only to make it happen. She cried again all the way home. And then she returned to work, more determined than ever before, repeating to herself over and over again: “You absolutely must switch to the euro. It wouldn’t be me if I said, “Well, that’s it. I just have to accept it. I accept the fight.”

And it’s one thing to get in shape, another thing is to get into a team for a club and a country. As she dived in to header Denmark, she slipped on her knees, lowered her head and slammed her hands into the turf. It really happened.

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It turns out that this was just the beginning. Turns out it was better. “I get much more pleasure from these events: I like football even more than before,” Popp said after the semi-final. “That doesn’t mean that I didn’t like football back then. But now I appreciate the moments on the pitch more, and that’s why being here is special. Having the opportunity to perform like this and be in full shape at this stage, I am very proud.

“I became very dangerous, which I was in the past, but for a while it was not, because I was injured. This is thanks to the team. I have never experienced such a team spirit and they are just great: they support me and they are happy with me after all my history of suffering.

“It means a lot to me. You saw it in the goal and also in previous games: I am more emotional than before. It’s because I know what it took me to get to this point.”

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