Germany striker Alexandra Popp starred in the first Women's U17 finals and four years on talks about what the competition means, and developing alongside players like Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer.
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Alexandra Popp was one of the stars of the first UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship from which Germany emerged victorious in 2008. The following season, the defender-turned-striker won the UEFA Women's Cup with FCR 2001 Duisburg and the first of two German Cups. A member of the Germany squad that won the FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup on home soil in 2010, the 21-year-old is now a senior international regular, but she has not forgotten her first big success in Nyon.
UEFA.com: Germany beat France 3-0 in the 2008 final. How did that feel?
Alexandra Popp: It was a very hot day, I remember that. It was brilliant to taste success with that great team, especially because it was the first big title I'd won. It was just great fun. It was a very even match until we scored the first goal. That broke the deadlock and it just went its own way from there. We showed great enthusiasm and passion, and that's how you get to be successful.
UEFA.com: Did the U17s help prepare you for the next steps in your career?
Popp: It was certainly very important. After the European Championship we played in the U-17 World Cup in New Zealand, and we had a great team spirit there too, although in the end it we only finished in third place. These tournaments are important to develop further and gain experience.
UEFA.com: Who were your footballing idols as a teenager?
Popp: Well, I always had Pavel Nedvěd as an idol, and I still do, because he was just a great player and also very genuine off the pitch. Then when I made it into the Bundesliga I played alongside Germany striker Inka Grings and I could always look to her for help. She was a good mentor for me, and she still is, although she plays in Zurich now.
UEFA.com: You spent a few years at FC Schalke 04's elite school at Berger Feld. How important was that time?
Popp: I had been playing football with boys for about ten years, and that left its mark on me. I go into every challenge even if it might hurt or seems to be hopeless, and that's what I learned from the boys: to be tough. When I came to Schalke, I developed further. I got faster. Then I switched to the women's team, and it was easier for me to adapt to the speed of play. I saw Benedikt Höwedes, Mesut Özil and Manuel Neuer, and how they developed further. You also heard a lot about them from the coaches - how they managed to succeed and how they dealt with things. It helps you to find your way.
UEFA.com: The 2012 U17 finals could be the chance for some stars of the future to make their mark. What advice would you give to the girls taking part in Nyon?
Popp: You should definitely look forward to an event like this, because it can be over faster than you might want. You have to enjoy it, have fun, and not go into it too hyped up. The first thing is to just do the simple things, just get into the game, and then if your team are playing well you should be able to relax and win your match.