If one player stood out from a very good pack at the last FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup two years ago, it was Alexandra Popp. The tall German striker spearheaded her team's march to the trophy in front of their home fans, and also came away with both the adidas Golden Ball as best player and the adidas Golden Boot as top scorer. Popp scored at least once in all Germany's matches, and is the joint top scorer in tournament history alongside Sydney Leroux and Christine Sinclair.
These days, the 21-year-old is a regular for the two-time world champions’ senior team. The likeable centre forward, who actually started out as a defender, switched to German Bundesliga club Wolfsburg in the summer. FIFA.com spoke to her about the current FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Japan, the Germany team, and what happened next after her stellar showing at the 2010 showdown.
FIFA.com: Almost exactly two years ago you contested the final of the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup, and now a new generation has made it to the final in Japan. Have you been following the tournament at all?
Alexandra Popp: Unfortunately I almost always have training around these times, so I've not seen very much. However, I've been watching the highlights on FIFA.com and I've occasionally caught a half of the Germany games.
The trophy and much prestige is at stake against USA on Saturday. What kind of game will it be?
I don't think we'll see a repeat of the group stage meeting with a big win for one side. It'll be a lot more tense this time. USA have pulled themselves together as the tournament has gone on, especially by beating North Korea, who were joint favourites. That gave them a real boost and it's taken them all the way to the final.
What would you say to the players in the dressing room just before kick-off?
I'd tell them to enjoy the day, and go into the match full of fun, joy and passion. Obviously, there needs to be a degree of focus, and you’ll ideally make the most of your chances.
Looking back to the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup Germany 2010, what are your fondest memories?
Everything! Although a very special highlight was the opening match in front of a capacity crowd. I was totally fired up and pumping with adrenaline. Obviously it was the same for the final, with real relief when we scored the opening goal. I still remember that very clearly indeed. You actually felt a huge weight and the pressure lifting from me and the whole team after that goal. It was such a relief, and then we quickly followed it up with the second. It sent shivers up my spine. And naturally, another very special moment was when we hoisted the trophy. It was just unforgettable.
You claimed both major personal honours, the adidas Golden Ball and the Golden Boot.
Obviously, taking home both awards was another highlight, but if we hadn't performed so well as a team, I'd never have scored ten goals, and I wouldn't have been named best player. We were a superb unit out on the field, and someone always benefits from that. It was me in this case, although many of my team-mates also really stood out two years ago.
How important was the tournament in terms of your career?
The tournament was my big international breakthrough. Everything suddenly happened so fast. I've never played such good football as I did at the U-20 World Cup. I enjoyed it, and we were a perfect team. And the coach handed me a lot of responsibility, which was a big personal challenge. The tournament was a real boost to my confidence, and I was a totally different player afterwards. There was a reward or recognition of sorts too, when I was promoted to the senior squad. Somehow, my career took off like a rocket thanks to the U-20 World Cup.