Germany great Popp chases World Cup glory to cap remarkable career

Berlin (AFP) – Germany captain Alexandra Popp will hope there is no repeat of her injury curse when she attempts to crown a towering career with Women's World Cup glory.

Wolfsburg and Germany forward Alexandra Popp celebrates scoring in the Champions League final against Barcelona
Wolfsburg and Germany forward Alexandra Popp celebrates scoring in the Champions League final against Barcelona © Simon Wohlfahrt / AFP

The 32-year-old is one of the biggest stars in German sport having won every prize at club level, including two Champions Leagues with Wolfsburg.

She won Olympic gold with Germany in 2016, but Popp's international career has often seemed to have been cursed, like when she missed the country's triumphant 2013 Euros campaign with an ankle injury.

She missed Euro 2017 with a knee issue and was then heartbreakingly ruled out in the warm-up ahead of last year's Euro final against England due to injury, having scored in every one of Germany's five matches up to that point.

Germany lost 2-1 in extra time at Wembley, with a forlorn Popp watching from the stands.

Despite the injury setbacks Popp has scored 62 goals in 128 appearances for Germany, her standing rising alongside that of women's football in the country.

Germany, one of the favourites to win the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, begin their campaign on Monday against Morocco in Melbourne.

Zookeeper goal-poacher

Popp has never been afraid to do things a bit differently.

Despite being a self-declared fan of Borussia Dortmund, she attended the prestigious Gesamtschule Berger Feld in Gelsenkirchen, the home of their arch-rivals Schalke.

Popp was the school's only female pupil and needed a special permit to attend.

Mesut Ozil, Manuel Neuer, Julian Draxler and Joel Matip, all of whom played in the Royal Blue of Schalke, are among Berger Feld's other graduates.

Alongside her football education, Popp did a one-year physiotherapy internship before completing a three-year zookeeping apprenticeship.

Popp made her Bundesliga debut with Duisburg in 2008, having turned down French giants Lyon, and won the UEFA Women's Cup -- precursor to the Champions League -- in her first season.

She moved to women's football powerhouse Wolfsburg in 2012 and won a memorable treble of league, cup and Champions League in her first year.

The Wolves repeated that feat the following season, with Popp scoring in the Champions League final.

Last year Popp became the first woman to win German football magazine Kicker's Personality of the Year, placing her alongside legends of the game like Jurgen Klopp, Oliver Kahn and Franz Beckenbauer.

Leader off the pitch

Speaking ahead of Wolfsburg's Champions League final defeat by Barcelona in June, Popp said she was not always comfortable with the adulation she receives.

"When you're sitting watching a musical and people aren't taking pictures of the stage but in your direction, it's sometimes a bit odd," she told reporters.

"I'm not going to pretend, I enjoy it to a certain extent," Popp added, before deflecting the attention towards the up-and-coming stars of women's football.

"I'd like to see the young players featured even more because they are the future of women's soccer."

Popp has emerged not only as one of Germany's best-known and popular athletes, but as a spokesperson for the women's game.

In May she called out football administrators for their "empty words" for initially failing to secure broadcasting rights in Germany for the World Cup.

She also recently addressed a simmering controversy that the German women would receive lower World Cup bonuses than their male counterparts, saying her teammates were actually "more than satisfied".

"It would absolutely send the wrong signal to stand up now and say 'but we want more'," she said.

With the men's team enduring their worst period on the field in a generation, Germany's women can restore some footballing pride -- especially if Popp can stay fit.

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