Popp seals top spot as Germany see off Spain to secure Euro 2022 progress

Martina Voss-Tecklenburg had predicted a clash of cultures and it was Germany’s that prevailed. Spain had more of the ball, just as she had said they would, but it was her ruthless, disciplined and resistant side that emerged victorious from a high end battle in Brentford that became such a classic expression of these team’s characters as to almost border on stereotype. It also came as a warning: Germany are competitors that must be taken very seriously.

“It was exactly that spirit that everyone thinks of with the Germany team but it was also tactically a great performance,” the coach said. “Some of the players may have cursed because they didn’t touch the ball much but they were rewarded with two goals.”

The first, scored by Klara Bühl, came from an early gift. The second, headed in by Alexandra Popp, came from a poorly defended corner. Together they completed a 2-0 win which leaves Germany top and Spain needing to draw with Denmark to secure a meeting with England. Wondering where it went wrong too, coach Jorge Vilda saying: “on the one hand there’s the play, on the other there’s the result.”

The simplest answer might be right at the start with the mistake that gave Germany the lead inside three minutes, but there was more to it. Spain’s domination failed to translate into goals or sufficient shots on target – a superb late save from Merle Frohms was one of just two. “We would love to have their competitive level, their ability to optimise their chances,” Vilda said. “Some games we have that; today we didn’t.”

For Germany, defender Marina Hegering in particular impressed and what of the remarkable Popp, getting another goal on what was somehow her first ever Euros start. That was the second, a little before the break; the first had come half an hour earlier, Vilda’s warning about not letting Germany score first unheeded. Against Finland they trailed after only forty-nine seconds; here it took a further ninety, goalkeeper Sandra Paños passing straight to Bühl, pressing inside the area, and she finished.

Spain had gone almost two years without falling behind. Now they had done so three games running. The good news was that they knew a way back, their identity clear; the bad news that was Germany before them and their first, swift opportunity to put things right ended with the ball in the side netting. Aitana Bonmatí and Patri Guijarro combined neatly to send Lucia García through but having gone round Frohms the angle was too tight.

On quarter of an hour, Spain had played 100 passes, Germany just sixteen. Patri’s shot was saved by Frohms and a good effort from the active Mariona Caldentey dipped just beyond the post. A little later there was also a lovely clipped attempt from Bonmatí. But Voss-Tecklenburg had expected Spain to have the ball and didn’t much mind. There was also something a little frantic about it, expressed in Bonmatí appealing for calm. And, just as they were increasing the pressure, Germany scored again, Popp heading in a corner.

She almost did it again at the start of the second half but Spain dominated anew, Ona Batlle’s deflected shot skidding through, three consecutive corners ending with Hegering clearing Paredes’s header, and Lucia García finding a well-worked opening closed off again. Bonmatí then released Lucia García. As fast as she ran through, though, Frohms ran out to take the ball from her toe. Despite the possession and quality Spain were not creating clear chances against a deep, disciplined defence and Germany offered a reminder of their threat when a long ball almost released Popp away only for Paredes to pull her down, risking a red card.

Claudia Pina, Marta Cardona and Athenea del Castillo were all introduced, but a natural No 9 was not, and if Spain were insistent German stood firm. A wonderful pass from Guijarro found Mariona Caldentey who guided a volley goalwards, where Frohms made a superb save. At the other end, Tabea Wassmuth was suddenly sent through to score, a portrait of their threat and the whole night. The flag went up this time giving Spain something to chase in the final minutes, but the damage had already been done.