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Alexandra Popp Is The Dream Crusher

Germany's forward #11 Alexandra Popp (R) celebrates scoring her team's first goal during the Australia and New Zealand 2023 Women's World Cup Group H football match between Germany and Morocco at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, also known as AAMI Park, in Melbourne on July 24, 2023.
William West / AFP via Getty Images|

TOPSHOT – (Photo by WILLIAM WEST / AFP) (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Imagine being Morocco. The Atlas Lionesses are riding the high of qualifying for a first World Cup, and they're not just happy to be here. The team is solid, they have a good star player in Rosella Ayane, and they could give almost any team trouble on any given match. Unfortunately for Morocco, the (bad) luck of the draw gave them the rudest possible World Cup welcome party. Germany means business this time around, having disappointed, by the country's lofty standards, last time around with a quarterfinal exit in 2019. They're on a mission this summer, and Morocco found out what happens when Germany is laser-focused. Maybe more pressingly, Morocco found what happens when Alexandra Popp is in killer mode.

There's a reason the 32-year-old Popp is climbing up Germany's all-time leading goalscorers table (she's currently in a tie for 3rd, with 64 in 129 matches): The woman is deadly inside the box. Whether it's by foot or, as it was on Monday, with her head, if Popp gets an inch of space near the opposing goal, she's going to be a danger for the defense. And if a defense leaves her mostly unmarked in the box as a cross flies in, well, Morocco found out in the 11th minute what that leads to:

Watch Popp on the build up to the cross from center back Kathrin Hendrich (why was a center back up there? Hard to say!). She holds her run to make sure she's onside in case Hendrich cuts the ball back on the ground, but as soon as the cross is in the cards, she drifts perfectly in between three Moroccan defenders who get caught ball-watching. Hendrich's cross needs only find her head to secure the goal, and Popp makes no mistake against the on-rushing goalkeeper. Simply put, this was a perfect poacher's goal, created by her superb and tactical movement, as well as a powerful rocket header.

"But Luis," you might say, "that's a goal any quality striker should be able to score. The defense blew it! Look at how much room she has!" Sure, reader, but the great thing about Popp is that she is her own counter-argument. About 27 minutes later, Germany had a corner. Morocco had settled into the game after Popp's opener, and given how this World Cup has gone for some of the favorites so far (France drawing, England barely winning, the USWNT missing a multitude of shots), this match was nowhere near over. That is, until Popp did whatever the hell this is on said corner:

There's no space whatsoever for Popp to work with here, and it matters not one bit. Did Popp mean to head the ball with the right side of her head while falling away from the goal, and to do so perfectly so that it gets past two defenders and the goalkeeper? Given her track record of scoring goal after goal for both club and country, I wouldn't bet against it, but that doesn't make this goal any less ridiculous for Germany, or more back-breaking for Morocco.

That the floodgates opened up after this goal, or more specifically after halftime and 15 minutes of stewing from Morocco, isn't all that surprising; a final score-line of 6-0 is fitting for this German performance. Germany won't back down after going up, even if goal difference likely won't play into their path to the next round. That's just the way this Germany side is built, all in the image of its captain and striker. Popp herself actually had a quiet game outside of those two goals, only registering one other shot in 83 total minutes on the field.

That doesn't matter, though, because she showed Morocco and, perhaps, the entire tournament that she doesn't need much of the ball to drive a metaphorical sword through the heart of any opposition. Two crosses, one great and one not-as-great, is all it took from Popp's teammates to set the table, and she dunked each of those opportunities with the head that has created so many goals in her career. Morocco may have been thrilled to make its World Cup debut, but the team ran into a woman on a mission in her fourth tournament, and potentially last as a headliner. There won't be many wasted chances in Popp's immediate future, and it'll be up to everyone else to slow her down.

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