Football is a mental exercise as much as it is a physical one. Players must be fully alert in crucial moments and ensure that they do not become distracted. Germany – and Alexandra Popp in particular – experienced this first-hand during their FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ semi-final against USA.
Midway through the first half, the Wolfsburg striker rose for the ball in the opposition penalty area and banged heads with Morgan Brian, leaving both players on the ground requiring several minutes of treatment. Although blood trickled from a cut under Popp’s hair that needed stitching, the forward was determined to keep playing. “I didn’t feel any pain because I was full of adrenalin,” the 24-year-old explained after the match.
Returning after half-time with turban-like bandaging, Popp continued to deliver a strong performance, even winning Germany’s penalty after refusing to let her earlier mishap stop her from committing to a duel with American defender Julie Johnston. This moment marked the start of an emotional rollercoaster for the European side as the previously sharp-shooting Celia Sasic stepped up and placed her spot-kick wide of the left-hand post. Anticipation gave way to disappointment, a feeling that intensified a short time later as Carli Lloyd held her nerve at the opposite end of the pitch to convert a penalty of her own and hand USA a 1-0 lead. Although Germany tried to claw their way back into the match, the final whistle eventually sounded to consign them to defeat and deny them a place in the final.
Determined to take bronze
“We’re very disappointed that we didn’t make it to the final, of course,” the softly spoken Popp told FIFA.com. “We were missing that little bit of luck after probably using up a little too much of it against France.” The two-time world champions had enjoyed a successful tournament up to that point, winning their group before reaching the semi-finals with a gutsy and technically strong performance. “We can definitely be proud of what we’ve achieved and can leave the stadium today with our heads held high despite the result,” the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup 2010 winner said, neatly summing up Germany’s journey through the competition.
Instead of heading to Vancouver for the final, Silvia Neid’s side must now travel to Edmonton to contest the Match for Third Place. While the Germans still have a chance to finish their Canadian adventure with a win, England will be equally keen to end their campaign on a high note after their dramatic last-four defeat by Japan. To get the better of the Lionesses, Popp and her team-mates will need to set aside their disappointment and clear their heads once more. It is an encounter the Wolfsburg striker is taking very seriously.
"We want to secure third place; fourth would be rubbish,” said one of the world’s best headers of the ball with a mix of confidence and belligerence. The bronze medal is not the only award Die Nationalelf could take home from Canada. With Nadine Angerer among three goalkeepers nominated for the adidas Golden Glove, a rock-solid performance from the Germany captain could enable her to scoop this prestigious accolade for the first time. As if that was not enough, Celia Sasic has been shortlisted for the adidas Golden Ball for player of the tournament and still leads the goalscorers’ list for this Women’s World Cup with six goals, a tally which could ultimately earn her the adidas Golden Boot.
With all this in mind, Germany have plenty of reasons to stay positive and focus on their final challenge in North America.