04/03/2024

The German national team celebrate together after their resounding opening match victory. (Image: DFB/Sofieke van Bilsen)

Alexandra Popp scored a brace as Germany made a statement to the rest of the competition at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, thrashing Morocco 6-0 in their opening match.

A year on from their heartbreaking loss to England in the 2022 UEFA European Championship final, Germany looks determined to make amends and go one step further this time.

After an injury in the semi-final forced Popp to watch the Euro Final from the sidelines after a stellar tournament, the German captain was ready to lead her side to even greater glory in 2023.

From the first minute, the tone was set for how the match would play out, with Germany monopolising possession while Morocco waited for any chance to hit on the break.

Popp wasted no time in opening her account at her fourth World Cup, and after just 11 minutes the star striker was on hand to head home after a miss-timed jump from Moroccan keeper Khadija Er-Rmichi.

In typical fashion, the German press was incessant forcing countless turnovers and sending wave after wave of pressure on the Moroccan back line.

It felt inevitable that Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s side would score again, and shortly before halftime, Popp towered above all comers to convert another header for her second of the night. The 64th goal of the 32-year-old’s international career put her fourth on Germany’s all-time goal-scoring list.

To their credit, Morocco’s speed on the break had the two-time World Champions sweating on one or two occasions, but Merle Frohms in the German goal was rarely called into action.

There may have been strong support for the underdogs amongst the 27,256 strong crowd at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, but with a 2-0 lead it was the voices of the Die Nationalelf faithful that rang around the stands at the break.

For the Atlas Lionesses, the opening stanza of their first taste of World Cup football was a harsh reality check, but it was only the start of what was going to be a long night for the debutants.

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Less than 30 seconds after the restart, Klara Buehl drove home a third when the ball spilled into her path after a chaotic scramble in the box. A goal that the lively winger’s play deserved from the first half.

When Hanane Ait El Haj deflected a cross into her own net to make it four a few minutes later, Moroccan heads finally began to drop. The second lowest-ranked side in the tournament made a commendable effort to fight to the end, but the world number two side was not finished.

Popp’s presence in the box caused havoc again before the ball eventually bounced in off the head of Zineb Redouani for a second own goal and a fifth for Germany before Lea Schüeller added a sixth in the 90th minute to add insult to injury.

Speaking to media post-match, German coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg sang the praises of her star striker while insisting that the result is but a small step in a much bigger journey for her side.

“What can more can you say about Poppi and her two goals, that’s just her quality,” Voss-Tecklenburg said.

“We know there’s another big challenge ahead of us, that’s why we’re not getting carried away and not getting ahead of ourselves.

“We have won the first game and the goals have given us some breathing space which could be important. In that sense we’re happy, but no more or no less.”

After scoring in her third consecutive World Cup and being named player of the match, Popp was enamoured with the vibrant German support.

“I’m of course really happy that I was able to give us a cushion with the two goals,” Popp said.

“Only at a World Cup can you have a first game in such a stadium with such an atmosphere.

“That makes us really happy and you can also feel it. You’re pushed on by the people in the crowd.

“That’s what makes playing football fun.”

After the incredible highs of their qualifying campaign, it was far from the magical first step onto the world stage that Morocco would have been dreaming of.

The World Cup can be a steep learning curve for new nations taking part, and the ruthless performance from the two-time champions showed Reynald Pedros’ side just how tough it can be.

They will take heart from the few times they were able to get in behind the German defence, and in one of the more open groups in the tournament, anything is possible.

The Atlas Lionesses will need to pick themselves up and dust themselves off quickly before they head to Adelaide to face South Korea on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Germany has well and truly hit the ground running in their quest for a third crown and to right the wrongs of last year’s European Championship heartbreak.

Full of confidence the Germans head to Sydney to face a new challenge in an up-and-coming Colombia side, who looked strong in the 2-0 defeat of South Korea in their opening match.

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