Alexandra Popp on target again as Germany sweep Finland aside

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The Guardian

Alexandra Popp became the first Germany player to score in all three group games of a Women’s Euros as her header helped Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side extend their 100% start to this tournament with a predictably comfortable win over Finland.

As the knockout stages shape up, Germany will face Austria in Brentford on Thursday, playing for the right to return to Stadium MK for a semi-final a week later, probably against Sweden, France or the Netherlands, the three European teams rated above them in the world rankings.

Popp was on target early in the second half as Finland, themselves with a 100% record — unfortunately three straight defeats — acquitted themselves creditably. The Germany captain followed England’s Beth Mead in becoming the first players to score in the three group games.

In the humidity of a midsummer Milton Keynes night, with qualification already assured, Germany had no reason to overstretch themselves. Although they made four changes, two enforced through suspension, they retained the powerful first-choice attacking trio that had pressed Spain so effectively in victory last Tuesday.

This time, against a Finnish side who also knew their group fate, there was less call for Svenja Huth, Popp and Klara Bühl to exert themselves as the first line of defence. Finland have helped light up this championship with their positivity, not least when they had gone ahead against Spain in their opening game, but they have fulfilled pre-tournament expectations as rank outsiders alongside Northern Ireland, eliminated after two games.

Here, they were obliged to defend deep and with numbers behind the ball, closer to their goal than they would have liked, relieved when Sara Däbritz blasted over early on, and Giulia Gwinn got in down the right wing but also raised her shot too high.

To their credit, Finland, quarter-finalists when they hosted this tournament in 2009, kept two players up for potential breakaways and gained confidence from not conceding early. Juliette Kemppi raced away one on one in the 25th minute but could not get her shot away.

Popp nicked a near-post shot wide and Marina Hegering struck the same hoarding behind the goal with a 25-yard effort shortly afterwards. But Germany have not won this competition on eight occasions — four in a row when Voss-Tecklenburg, their coach, was playing — without knowing how to stay patient against weaker opponents without losing tempo.

Sure enough, the opening goal arrived five minutes before the interval. Huth, running inside and square across the edge of the penalty area, played a cute reverse pass back down the right channel for the overlapping Gwinn to chip her cross beyond the near post. With one full-back making the difference down the right wing, Sophia Kleinherne, the left-back, arrived in the middle to head home. The Eintracht Frankfurt defender used to play as a striker and this first international goal set the scene for Germany to take charge.

Their expected victory looked cemented within three minutes of the restart. A coach’s nightmare, Anna Signeul’s decision to move Elli Pikkujamsa from centre to left-back as she withdrew Emma Koivisto in a half-time switch was immediately undone.

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Rather than shoring up their back line, Finland’s former Scotland coach witnessed the Germany substitute Kathrin-Julia Hendrich, on at right-back, cut past Pikkujamsa with disarming ease before crossing for Popp to nod down and over the line for her third goal of the tournament.

Germany’s substitutions reaped further dividend midway through the half. Eveliina Summanen’s control smacked of a player tired by chasing world-class opponents around a field as she lost possession to Nicole Anyomi, who took one touch wide to create an angle before sliding in what was also her first international goal.

July 17, 2022 at 02:57AM Peter Lansley at Stadium MK

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