Women's Euros: England pair trying to stop Popp face 'biggest game of their lives'

By Sports Desk July 29, 2022

England captain Leah Williamson and fellow centre-back Millie Bright face the most demanding test of their careers when they face Germany's Alexandra Popp in Sunday's Euro 2022 final.

That is the view of former Lionesses skipper Faye White, who says England should "see themselves as equals" with the eight-time European champions but is wary of the threat posed by Germany's goal-hungry captain.

"I don't worry as much as I would have certainly a few years ago or in the past," White told Stats Perform.

White captained England in the Euro 2009 final, where hopes of a first European title were dashed as Germany dished out a 6-2 victory hammering in Helsinki.

Prolific striker Birgit Prinz scored twice that day for Germany, and White said Popp presents "exactly the same" threat, with the Wolfsburg star having joined England's Beth Mead on six goals in the battle for the Golden Boot.

Popp's double against France led Germany to a 2-1 semi-final victory, teeing up the shot at hosts England, whose 4-0 demolition of Sweden underlined their threat.

White said what impressed her most about Popp, who is coming off a long knee injury lay-off, was "that clinicalness... that desire we could see with both her goals".

The first was a volley on the stretch, and the second a bullet header after finding a yard of space that left White "speechless".

"That is what she has and that's why I think it's a massive game for our two centre-halves," White said.

White's view is that when it comes to powerful strikers, Germany "just breed them", with 31-year-old Popp the latest in a long line.

If England are to set aside a record of two wins from 27 past meetings with Germany, then keeping Popp quiet will surely be essential.

"Millie and Leah have to win the battle basically. And it's the biggest game of their lives. Trust me," White said.

England have had many special moments in the tournament, with an 8-0 thrashing of Norway in the group stage, the extra-time victory over Spain in the quarter-finals and Tuesday's demolition job on Sweden capturing the imagination.

Germany have perhaps had fewer similarly exhilarating results, but they have been impressively solid, leading White to state that "everyone just has to have a big game" if England are to lift the trophy at Wembley.

She says England are "in a mindset where they will relish it rather than be squashed by that", adding: "We are in the best place we will ever be to be able to do it and beat them. I just keep thinking, please make this time be the time we get one over on Germany."

England have been semi-finalists at the past two World Cups and also reached that stage at Euro 2017, which is why White considers this generation so different to her own.

"In my time when we played in 2009, it was a completely different gulf between the two teams that matched up in that final," she said. "The mindset of these current players is that they won't fear the Germans like we did. We know the history, but it's not history of recent times as the Germans haven't got to the latter stages of tournaments as England have recently."

The goals of the likes of Mead and Alessia Russo have been crucial, but it has been Sarina Wiegman's influence as England's manager that has most impressed White.

Wiegman, who led the Netherlands to European glory five years ago, only joined up with England in 2021 but has made a tremendous impact.

White said Wiegman has been "the key", adding: "I've always felt that the last bit of the puzzle was the manager who's won something.

"Because when you're in the changing room, and you're going through all the tactics, knowing that that coach has won something, I just think that's invaluable."

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