Germany got their World Cup campaign off to a winning start with victory over Morocco in Melbourne, Australia. Alexandra Popp’s two first-half headers set the tone as Germany racked up the highest score of the tournament so far.
Whether literally or figuratively, Alexandra Popp knows how to use her head.
“I’m at my best with my head!” she said after setting Germany on their way to an emphatic 6-0 win over Morocco with two powerful first-half headers. “No matter how high or low the cross is, all I see is the ball.”
Almost exactly a year ago, a typical bullet header against France sent Germany to a Euro 2022 final she would ultimately end up missing through injury.
Here in Melbourne, she again set the tone as Germany racked up the highest scoreline of the World Cup so far, laying down a marker for their trophy rivals — and maybe offering Popp a chance of redemption.
“Her sheer quality, her sheer power — it does something with opponents,” said head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg of her veteran captain and goal-machine. “Her goals do her good, and they do us good.”
Alexandra Popp: Germany’s ‘weapon’
Having netted her 63rd and 64th goals on her 129th appearance for Germany, Popp’s apparent pregame frustrations at an inability to hit the target during the training seemed almost comically unfounded — and yet a reminder of the high standards she sets.
“I can’t think of a better header of the ball in women’s football,” Kathrin Hendrich, the provider of the cross for Popp’s first goal, told DW.
“Her heading is a weapon, and it gives us the assurance that, even if we’re struggling to create chances from open play, we’re always dangerous from set-pieces and crosses because we have Poppi up front.”
Right-back Svenja Huth concurred, telling DW: “Against deep-lying opposition, like today, where we have to attack down the flanks, it’s good to know that we have Alex Popp lurking in the middle and putting her head about.”
Ahead of kickoff, Voss-Tecklenburg had said she wanted Germany to “dominate the game,” and she saw her wish granted after just 11 minutes. Yet while a cross from the right and a towering Popp header were hardly surprising, the identity of the crosser perhaps was.
“We’re all capable of putting good crosses in!” laughed Hendrich, a central defender by trade. “We’re flexible and adaptable, so ultimately it doesn’t matter who crosses the ball.”
Morocco: Atlas Lions fail to roar
With Morocco offering precious little in terms of offensive threat — two first-half counterattacks after sloppy German losses of possession quickly petered out — full-backs Huth and Felicitas Rauch had all the encouragement they needed to bomb forward as Germany switched from a back-four to a back-three when in possession.
At one point, goalkeeper Merle Frohms even took to running widths of the pitch during an injury break to keep the cold Melbourne air out of her muscles. Her opposite number, Khadija Errmichi, had a busier evening — and one to forget, completely misjudging Hendrich’s cross for the first goal and only getting a weak hand to Popp’s header for the second.
“We managed to get balls into the box where it’s dangerous, and I’m happy that I could really calm the team’s nerves with my two goals,” explained Popp, before the floodgates opened in the second half.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg: ‘Satisfied’
Klara Bühl and Jule Brand struck fear into the Moroccan defenders who twice put the ball into their own net, before substitute Lea Schüller completed the rout late on.
“There’s certainly a degree of relief because you never quite know what level you’re at, and we’ve seen that some other top teams have had a hard time so far,” said Voss-Tecklenburg, having clearly taken note of France’s goalless draw with Jamaica, England’s narrow 1-0 win over minnows Haiti and the United States’ rather unspectacular performance against Vietnam.
But they didn’t have Alexandra Popp up front, literally heading up Germany’s attack.
“We’re not going to get carried away,” concluded Voss-Tecklenburg. “We’re satisfied. Nothing less, nothing more.”
Germany can now secure qualification for the knockout stages with another win over Columbia on Sunday, while Morocco will face another tough task against South Korea. (DW/NN-25-07-23)
Edited by Matt Ford