Now one of the game's leading forwards, Alexandra Popp recalls how her success at the 2008 Women's U17 finals kick-started her career with some help from FC Schalke 04.
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Germany striker Alexandra Popp may have the frustration of sitting out UEFA Women's EURO 2013 through injury next month but the UEFA European Women's Under-17 Championship, starting on Tuesday, could bring back some happier emotions.
Popp, then recently converted from a left-back to a winger, was inspirational as Germany won the junior tournament's inaugural edition in Nyon, Switzerland, five years ago. She scored in the 3-0 final defeat of France to take her season-leading goal tally to 11.
"It was fantastic to be successful with that team, the great coaching staff and all the other members of the group, especially because it was the first big title in my career," Popp, 22, told UEFA.com. "It was just great fun.
"The stadium was sold out, we played against France. It was a very even match until we managed to score the first goal, which opened the game up – from then on everything was easier and the game was ours. It was fun, we showed great spirit and passion, and that's how you normally become successful."
She was soon a fully fledged forward, taking the 2010 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup golden boot in Germany's home victory, before leading the line in the senior event a year later. Popp also won the 2009 UEFA Women's Cup with FCR 2001 Duisburg and the UEFA Women's Champions League last month with VfL Wolfsburg. She credits the U17 success with giving her a flying start.
"It's certainly very important," she said. "After the U17 European Championship we played the [FIFA U-17 Women's] World Cup in New Zealand, and there we also had a great team spirit, which worked very well, although in the end it was only enough for third place. But it's just important to develop further and gain experience, to work hard on yourself, and to bring those efforts into the team where you can help as part of a unit. If that unit works well, from head to toe, you can achieve success."
It helped too, of course, that Popp had been the sole girl at FC Schalke 04's football academy. "I had already played football with boys for about ten years and that had a positive influence on me," she said. "I wasn't scared for instance – I went into every challenge even if I could get hurt or it seemed hopeless, but I managed to win them. That's what I learned from the boys, to be tough. So back then I managed to develop, especially in terms of dynamics: I became faster, was able to keep up in a fast game."
Germany, for the first time, are absent from the Women's U17 finals – the last four-team event in Nyon before the showpiece doubles in size – yet Popp has a message for this month's contenders, Belgium, Poland, Sweden and Spain. "I think all the players should definitely look forward to a tournament like this, because it can be over faster than you might think," she said.