At Wembley this afternoon, England face the old enemy for European Championship glory. Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side have swept aside all challenges along the way to reach the final and now, they will provide the Lionesses toughest test to date. The Germans arguably have endured a more difficult route up to this point, having disposed of Austria in the quarter-final and France in the semis, but then again, England beat pre-tournament favourites Spain in the last eight.
Sarina Wiegman will be more than aware that her side have only faced one real test on this journey to the final and that came in the form of Spain. The group stage was a breeze and Sweden were rolled over in the semis, while the possession-based side were able to create chances and take England to extra-time before Georgia Stanway’s stunner.
So what Germany will bring to the table is something the Lionesses haven’t faced so far. Let’s start with the obvious. Alexandra Popp has established herself to be the finest centre-forward in the tournament and is making up for lost time having missed the last two editions of the tournament through injury.
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She’s now level on goals with Beth Mead having hit six in five games, including the two against France in the semi-final. But what England haven’t faced in this tournament so far is an out and out striker capable of bullying defences. Millie Bright has dealt with her opponents well so far, but Popp is a level above anything she has come up against.
More importantly, she’s probably the best forward in the world in the air. Her opening goal against Austria off the bench was a stooping header at the back post, her header against Spain secured an important win and her towering jump against Finland secured top spot in the group.
But her winning goal against France showed exactly what England’s defence is up against. With the ball about to be crossed in from the right, she pulled back out of the six yard-area, away from the back four. Then, as the ball was struck, she attacked it with vigour and power, leaping above the 6ft 2in defensive giant Wendie Renard to win the game with another phenomenal header.
Renard is arguably the best central defender in the world - she is certainly the most physical - so for Popp to dominate her in that manner should set alarm bells ringing for England. If they can keep her quiet and off the scoresheet, they will almost certainly lift the trophy on Sunday night.
But despite her goalscoring exploits, Germany aren’t a one-woman team. England also face the unenviable task of trying to stop midfield metronome Lena Obedorf. The 20-year-old Wolfsburg midfielder has had a breakout tournament and has been essential to the way Voss-Tecklenburg’s side play.
When the team are under pressure, they give her the ball. When they are struggling to get a grip on proceedings, she is so often the one to break up play and win the ball back. She had a reputation as a ball-winner in midfield, which she is, but it is her use of the ball that could be so dangerous for England.
Fran Kirby and Georgia Stanway will attempt to harry and press her into a mistake, but she’s so good at keeping the ball it's unlikely to work. If she plays well, Germany play well, so trying to stop her playing her natural game will be one of Wiegman’s primary concerns.
Many think that Germany’s huge tournament experience will make a huge difference in this final. They eight-time winners have clearly been the dominant force in this competition over the years, but their last win came in 2013 and of the current squad, only Svenja Huth was involved.
What is perhaps more critical is Wiegman’s experience of winning a final on home soil just five years ago with the Netherlands. She knows how to manage expectations and England have barely lost a game under her watch. Germany have a lot of ability to hurt the Lionesses and it will be Wiegman’s toughest test, but what England can do to their opponents is arguably even more lethal.
*18+ | BeGambleAware