Germany’s round of 16 match against Nigeria on Saturday (17:30 CEST) will be Alexandra Popp’s 100th international cap. In an interview with DFB.de, the 28-year-old spoke with Olivia Jensen about the duel against the African champions, the milestones from her career and the growth of women’s football.
DFB.de: Ms. Popp, what does making your 100th appearance mean to you?
Popp: Of course, it’s something special. When I think about that fact that I made my first appearance in 2010, then it all went pretty quickly. I’m proud to now be a football player with 100 caps. However, that wasn’t a topic that was at the front my mind. Most likely it was for others, given that we’re in the World Cup right now. If someone asks me about my 100th cap, then I just think: ‘Wow, has it really been that many?' It’s a bit crazy.
DFB.de: What memories do you have of your first international appearance?
Popp: It was against North Korea in Duisburg in February 2010. At the time, I was still playing for FCR 2001 Duisburg. That’s why a lot of people cheered and were excited when I was subbed on. I came on late in the second half and still managed to have a chance off a header. Unfortunately, the ball went just over the net.
DFB.de: Which of your matches for Germany do you most like to look back on?
Popp: Definitely the final at the Olympics in Rio in 2016. The atmosphere in the legendary Maracaña stadium is unbelievable. Winning that match and having a gold medal placed around your neck was an amazing experience. It was also my first title with the senior squad.
DFB.de: And what’s been the most painful loss in your international career so far?
Popp: Being knocked out in the quarterfinals against Japan during the World Cup on home soil in 2011. Especially because it was a very unlucky loss. We dominated the entire match, but weren’t able to score. It felt like Japan had once chance where they scored the winning goal. That was the end of our dream.
DFB.de: Do you have a teammate from the national team where you were able to learn a lot from when you were younger?
Popp: Inka Grings. Not only did she help me out at FCR Duisburg, but she did the same with the national team. Birgit Prinz also took care of me during my first few appearances.
DFB.de: Do you see yourself in some of the younger players on the team now, like Klara Bühl, Giulia Gwinn or Lena Sophie Oberdorf?
Popp: The ‘little ones’ give off this sense of ease and of being carefree that I also had when I was younger. Over the next few years, they will have to back up their performances. I hope that they manage to do so. I wasn’t always able to do it (laughs). But it’s normal to not always consistently play at the same level in football. Based on how they play, Lea Schüller is more my mirror image.
DFB.de: Your international career spans nine years. How has women’s football changed over that time?
Popp: The quality of the teams has gotten better. Even teams who are taking part in their first World Cup are delivering strong performances. In general, the game has gotten faster and more technical. If you watch a game from nine years ago and then one from today, then the development in women’s football is clear to see.
DFB.de: Your biggest success with the first team has been winning the Olympics in 2016, like you said. You missed out on winning the Euros in 2013 due to an injury. How important would it be for you personally to win a World Cup or European Championship?
Popp: That would be the biggest thing ever. Especially winning a World Cup—that’s something that every player dreams of.
DFB.de: Germany have won all three of their group stage matches and have yet to allow a goal against. How happy are you with the team’s performance so far?
Popp: Overall, we found our way into the tournament well, which the team deserves to be recognized for. We upped our level of play in our last match against South Africa. I hope that we take this feeling of how fun it is to let both the ball and the opponent do the running with us into the round of 16.
DFB.de: You’re up against Nigeria, who have won the last three African championships. How do your rate your opponents?
Popp: Nigeria are a very robust side and go into challenges hard. The same is true for almost every African team. They have very fast and talented strikers, who are good on the ball. As a result, we can’t give them any room. At the back they have some issues and aren’t as organized. If we’re able to play ourselves into those gaps and be clinical in front of goal then the game will go in our favour.
DFB.de: This is your first big tournament as the team captain. Is it a completely different experience than previously?
Popp: I told myself that I wouldn’t change. I think I’ve been able to do that well so far. The first games were a bit of a ‘wow’ moment for me because all of a sudden I was at the front of the line. Normally I’m all the way at the back. I’m definitely proud to be leading Germany onto the pitch.