England stalwart Millie Bright v Golden Boot contender Alexandra Popp a fascinating subplot to Euro 2022 final
The German striker’s in direct battle with Mead for the coveted top scorer trophy, but the colossal Lionesses centre-back stands in her way at Wembley on Sunday, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.Embed from Getty Images
When Germany face England on Sunday, one of the most intriguing individual duels on the pitch will be the one between German striker Alexandra Popp and English centre-back Millie Bright. Both players have had exceptional tournaments so far, and have shown that for many players, the best can still come even after being involved in a national team for many years.
Bright has been a stalwart of this English side during the 2017 Euros and the 2019 World Cup, but she has never looked as assured as she does currently. This may be due to the switch to her favoured centre-back position on the right. Previously, when the Chelsea defender had been paired with Steph Houghton, the former captain occupied that right slot, shunting Bright to the left. She has never looked particularly comfortable there and Sarina Wiegman has returned her to the space where she plays for Chelsea. It has paid dividends with Bright being calm and assertive, winning aerial duels and not being concerned about simply hoofing the ball away when it comes near her.
Bright’s performances will be familiar to anyone who has watched her at the west London side last season, where she tied together a defence that occasionally looked rather makeshift. With Magdalena Eriksson also missing a significant chunk of the campaign due to injury, Bright took on the role of the leader at the club. It is a role she has fulfilled at England, with Wiegman selecting her as vice-captain to her centre-back partner Leah Williamson. There is no doubt that over the past year, Bright’s technical ability has continued to improve as she is now playing better than she ever has previously.
If Bright’s career has been defined by steadiness and consistency, Popp’s has been littered with missed opportunities because of how injury-prone she is. She missed both Euros in 2013 and 2017 with injuries, and only just about made this year’s, having been injured on and off for the past 18 months. While Bright’s tournament performances have been steadily impressive in a somewhat understated manner, Popp’s have been a blast of pure determination.Embed from Getty Images
She has scored six times in five games, equalling Beth Mead’s record of having scored the most goals in a single European Championship. She also became the first woman to score in every match of a Euros that she has played. You might know what Popp is going to do, but it is not easy to stop her. Almost all her goals have come from the exact same position, in the middle of the six-yard box, but no defenders have kept her out yet.
That job then will likely land with Bright. She certainly has the physical attributes to match up to Popp but so did Wendie Renard. Something to keep an eye out for will be how much Bright chooses to follow Popp’s movement. Given that Popp can play as a midfielder as well as a striker, she is very much au fait with picking the ball up in any area of the pitch. Bright has been used at Chelsea and England to mark players in the past, and it may well be the case that Wiegman does the same here. Bright, at the very least, should be familiar with what the Wolfsburg striker is trying to do, given her own career as a centre-forward, both past and present.
Popp will need to outscore Mead if she is to take home the Golden Boot, with the Brit on five assists to the German’s none. The opportunity to lift the Euros trophy will surely be her primary motivator but it is hard not to think she doesn’t have one eye on the coveted top scorer award. Bright, though, will be her toughest test yet if she is to snatch it.
Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph
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