Seven years ago, German striker Alexandra Popp had to put her three-year zookeeping course on hold for more than six months to play for Germany in the FIFA Women’s Football World Cup in Canada.
While Germany reached the semi-finals in the world cup, Popp returned to the zoo in Essehof to complete her course. On Wednesday night, Pops starred as striker in Germany’s 2-1 win over France, scoring both the goals in the semifinal of the Women’s Euros played in Milton Keynes. With six goals, Popp is now tied with England’s Beth Mead in the race for the golden boot at the Euros.
“It was very physical work (in the zoo), and I suffered in terms of recuperation. The animals are a great counterweight to football. I can sit in front of the monkey cage for two hours, and it just calms me down,” Popp had told Worldfootball in 2015 ahead of the world cup.
Her social media is often populated with animal pictures from the zoo – a tiger, a bear. She has drawn a correlation between the animal kingdom and the football field. “It’s a bit like a football team. The solidarity between the mongooses is primordial. In nature, everyone has to sacrifice themselves for others, and they communicate a lot, that’s the secret of group success. When you communicate with animals, body language is important, just like on the pitch. Sometimes if others aren’t correcting their mistakes on the pitch, I can get quite loud,” Popp had said.
The German striker also takes inspiration for team work from a pack of wolves. “Wolves are important. It’s a group. It’s like ‘Timon’ from the Lion King. They are always in a pack to care for each other. It’s like a team, and this is what fascinated me.” Popp had told The Equalizer.
Born in Witten, Popp joined Germany’s elite football school Berge Feld at the age of 17 and would become the school’s only female trainee; footballers like Mesut Ozil and Manuel Neuer have trained at the same school. Poop trained with the men’s junior team of German club Schalke before going on to debut for Germany in 2010.
While she missed the 2013 and 2017 editions of the European Championships due to injuries, she has been with the German club Wolfsburg for the last nine years, winning two Champions League and five Bundesliga titles. She was also part of the Olympics gold medal winning German women’s football team in 2016 Rio Olympics.
Last year a severe knee injury sidelined her to a nine-month rehabilitation programme but she persevered. And has now scored in each of Germany’s five games at the Euros, becoming the first woman player to score in five consecutive games in European Championships.
The 31-year-old German striker, who was part of a delegation to negotiate bonuses from German Football Association in a range close to 60,000 Euros per player for winning Euro 2020, will be leading the German hopes, against home favourites England in a packed Wembley stadium on Sunday, to snatch their ninth Euro title.