Beth Mead and Alex Popp

How Beth Mead and Alexandra Popp have overcome adversity to lead their respective nations’ Euro 2022 title charge

Just when Beth Mead had one hand on the Golden Boot trophy after taking her tournament tally to six goals against Sweden, up stepped the mercurial Alexandra Popp to steal her thunder a mere 24 hours later.

The race is on, in every sense of the word. Perhaps Sunday’s Euro 2022 final will be decided by the potency of each side’s most deadly attacking talent.

Certainly, there would be no surprise if both Mead and Popp were on the scoresheet as the Lionesses take on Germany in a blockbuster showdown at Wembley Stadium.

Incredibly, Beth Mead has scored all of her shots on target. Alexandra Popp has scored six from seven shots on target.

Germany's Alexandra Popp celebrates after scoring her side's second goal during the Women Euro 2022 quarter final soccer match between Germany and Austria at Brentford Community Stadium in London, Thursday, July 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Alexandra Popp leads the tournament’s scoring charts alongside England’s Beth Mead (6)

The crescendo promises to be a huge occasion, in front of a record-breaking crowd, and a celebration of how this tournament has permeated the fabric of the country’s footballing community.

It’s captured imaginations with moments of magic, collective joy and overwhelming support in the stands, as well as showcased the explosion in popularity of the women’s game. It’s finally taken its rightful place among the mainstream.

But here comes England’s toughest test yet. Eight-time European champions Germany are the most successful national team in the history of the competition, by quite some distance.

Alessia Russo celebrates after scoring England Women's third goal against Sweden
Alessia Russo celebrates after scoring an astonishing goal for England against Sweden

They are ranked fifth in the world by FIFA, three places higher than Sarina Wiegman’s side, and possess one of the tournament’s most revered strikers.

Popp’s story is fascinating. One of hardship, heartache, and redemption. Much like Mead, Popp has suffered multiple setbacks in her career.

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With England’s Beth Mead in the running for the Euro 2022 Golden Boot, we take a look back at the forward’s goals and assists for Arsenal last season in the WSL

Euro 2022 marks the first time the Germany captain has featured at a European Championships, having missed the 2013 and 2017 editions through injury. In between the two, she helped Germany to Olympic gold at Rio 2016.

But merely participating, whilst a milestone, was never going to be enough for one of the most recognisable faces in international women’s football. Popp came to conquer. A three-times Champions League winner, success is all she knows.

Alexandra Popp kept up her record of scoring in every game at Euro 2022 so far with Germany's late second - and her 57th international goal
Alexandra Popp has scored in every fixture at this year’s Euro 2022 finals

A Euro debutante at the age of 31 is unusual, but represents exactly why she is a force to be reckoned with. “People had written me off,” she said after scoring the deciding goal in Germany’s narrow quarter-final victory over Austria.

The Wolfsburg forward then scored twice as Die Nationalelf edged past France. Her contribution to the tournament has been astounding considering she began the year with yet more injury woes – sidelined for 11 months with a knee problem – and caught Covid-19 during Germany’s warm-up camp.

Since then, she has scored six of Germany’s 13 tournament goals at a staggeringly accurate rate. Popp has netted six times from 17 shots, while the rest of Germany’s squad has combined for seven goals from 75 shots. It’s precision finishing.

Alexandra Popp doubled Germany's advantage
Die Nationalelf have won all 11 of their Women’s Euro matches in England, scoring 32 goals

Befittingly, her opener against France was Germany’s 100th at a Euro finals – the first side to ever reach a century of goals in the competition.

Journeying back to Germany’s opening group stage game against Denmark, where Popp was a 61st minute substitute, it’s hard not to be endeared by the forward’s emotional response to her first Euros haul.

As she slammed the ball home from a pinpoint Sydney Lohmann cross, she was so overcome with feeling she sank to her knees and pounded the ground. Perhaps more in relief than anything else, but also as a marker of her fight to represent her beloved country at a tournament where they have long dominated – despite her absence.

There were emotional scenes when Alexandra Popp scored her first Euros goal against Denmark

She has scored five more since then, each one as memorable as the first, becoming the only player ever to find the net in five consecutive women’s Euro games.

More than just a goal machine, though, nothing summed up Popp’s commitment to Germany’s relentless cause more than a lung-busting run she made in the 58th minute against Les Bleues.

Ordinarily, she’d be running towards the opposition goal, but not in this instance. At 1-1, with Selma Bacha bearing down on goal, Popp darted the length of the pitch before successfully throwing herself in the way of the impending shot. It was a game-saving intervention, one that any defender would be proud of, and perfectly summed up Popp’s incessant need to make up for lost time. She was never going to be satisfied with a lowly semi-final appearance.

Her plight is one of the tournament’s most compelling success stories, but England have a jewel of their own. They possess Mead.

England's Beth Mead, left, celebrates after scoring her side's first goal against Sweden
The Lionesses have scored 20 times at Euro 2022, one behind Germany’s finals record of 21 set in 2009

Negative experiences often have a positive impact, if channelled correctly, and that is especially true in the Arsenal winger’s case. “Beth Mead’s on fire” has never rang louder – or truer.

The Lionesses 4-0 rout against Sweden was the biggest margin of victory in a semi-final at a women’s European Championship, as well as being Sweden’s heaviest defeat in the competition.

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Beth Mead says after a cagey opening to the game, her opening goal helped to settle England and set them on their way to their 4-0 win over Sweden

Who kickstarted that landslide triumph? Mead. Her goal shifted the balance of the tie in England’s favour. She wrestled the initiative, just as she’s had to grapple with adversity over the past couple of years.

Last summer, the 27-year-old was overlooked as Team GB won Olympic bronze. It was a personal blow. But since that well-documented disappointment, Mead has regained her England standing and been wreaking havoc on helpless opposition defences, driven by ruthless vengeance.

She’s scored four international hat-tricks in nine months, including a particularly spectacular showing in the group stage against Norway. Her comeback has been remarkable. Arguably, the brief hiatus was exactly what Mead needed. “It lit a fire under me,” she admitted recently.

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England striker Beth Mead believes that missing out on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics GB team makes her selection for the England Euro 2022 team even more special!

No player epitomises the Lionesses dramatic forward leap better than Mead.

The head-to-head battle with Popp – both players are locked on six strikes apiece – reaches its much-anticipated climax on Sunday. It’s a captivating sub-plot.

The most likely outcome is that whoever takes home the Golden Boot is also likely to be lifting the European trophy. As for who that might be, your guess is as good as mine.

Follow the Euro 2022 final across Sky Sports

Sky Sports News and Sky Sports’ digital platforms will be following every step of England’s Euro 2022 journey ahead of Sunday’s final.

The Sky Sports News Mobile Presentation bus will bring you all the best guests and analysis outside Wembley, with the likes of Karen Carney, Sue Smith, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk and Laura Bassett offering their expert insight.

Across, the Sky Sports App and on social media, we’ll have all the big moments covered with our previews, features, reports, analysis, plus the the Sky Sports Women’s Euros podcast with Sky Sports’ senior football journalist Charlotte Marsh and Sky Sports News reporter Anton Toloui.

And if you’re new to the England squad, don’t worry – here’s our guide to meeting the Lionesses.

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