Germany kicked off their FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup campaign in style on Monday with a 6-0 victory over Morocco.
While a demolition on the scoreboard, Morocco did have bright moments and kept the game close for a respectable amount of time. A brave resistance harried the Germans, who were prevented from settling into a smooth rhythm, and resulted in a number of good chances the other way.
However, Alexandra Popp opened the scoring with two excellently-taken goals and the second half opened in disaster for the underdogs. Two fluffs straight from the kickoff invited Germany to pounce, and pounce they did through Bayern Munich’s Klara Bühl. At 2-0 it was a game; at 3-0 it began to fall into a rout.
Here’s a review of the action ahead of Sunday’s 5:30 AM EST kickoff against Colombia.
Alexandra Popp comes up with the magic yet again
Germany weren’t exactly struggling in the first half outside of Popp’s wonderful two goals, but the VfL Wolfsburg striker was a wizard in the box yet again. She conjured up her typically deft finishing touch exactly when needed, with two emphatic finishes that — especially the second — really need to be seen to be understood.
Popp’s role is all the more interesting for her contributions in midfield. Something of a German Harry Kane, only even more of a central midfielder than a ten in her second duty, Popp fielded a good share of her touches dropping deep to collect and link up play. Yet in the final third, she still got into good positions regularly — a handful for defenders and an insight into Martina Voss-Tecklenburg’s attacking plans, which try to make the most of the pace of Germany’s two goal-threat wingers.
Speaking of which...
Jule Brand is a star
Only 20 years of age, Brand is one of the younger players in the Germany national team setup. At last summer’s EURO, she had just made her transfer and was yet to debut for Wolfsburg, and was one of the first players off the bench. A year later, having won the inaugural Tuttosport Golden Girl award in October, Brand is in the XI and making plenty of noise.
What makes Brand so good? She’s got more than a little of everything. Creative instincts, explosive pace, super technique — Brand was all over the field for Germany, playing at times on either wing, tracking back as much as she burst forward. Defensively, she was tenacious and physical. Offensively, she was a creative spark plug.
And she was involved in each of Germany’s first five goals:
- Brand intercepts a build-up pass, drives, and provides the hockey assist by playing in Kathrin Hendrich for the cross.
- Brand receives with a slick first touch, then nods it down to herself and jets past her defender to win a corner. It becomes Popp’s second.
- Brand receives free at the far post, feeding it first time to Magull, who puts it on the crossbar. Then she pounces on the rebound and in the ensuing scuffle — though not credited with an assist — the ball bounds out to Bühl for the scoring strike.
- Brand wins a corner using her pace. The second ball in from the corner deflects in as an own goal.
- Same story as the fourth! Brand gets in behind and her cross is intercepted for a corner, which is bundled in for another OG.
That’s a lot of impact running through one player. Of course, it’s a team sport — but on this day Brand, especially, was on fire.
It’s ultimately not too worthwhile to pick out problems in a rout, but underneath the numbers in a lopsided win do lurk some warning signs and areas for improvement. Germany’s efforts at building out left something to be desired, especially in a first half that stayed at an uncomfortable 1-0 until Popp’s rabbit out of a hat near the end.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg set up her side to build out from three and play through the lines, but neither the defense nor the midfield navigated Morocco’s compact 4-4-2 press very well. Upon receiving in midfield, the likes of Popp, Melanie Leupolz (Chelsea FC), and Sara Däbritz (Lyon) often found themselves compressed for space and forced into bad decisions.
This is pressure Germany simply have to navigate better. In these situations, they have numerical advantages and don’t need to play instead into the teeth of the opposition. Let’s look at a few such sequences below.
Here, Leupolz receives as the six in a 3+1 and turns immediately into trouble, as she doesn’t anticipate pressure, led by Morocco’s Élodie Nakkach from off her shoulder before the turn. Better awareness could have resulted in playing back to the central center-back and restarting the build-up. Instead, the ball is turned over and results in one of Morocco’s four shots on target.
Immediately following that shot, Germany nearly fail again on the restart. This time Däbritz receives and turns — it seems the intent is to play through the lines centrally. Svenja Huth (Wolfsburg), functionally the right wing-back, is dropping deep and calling for the ball but the pass ends up aimed at Popp, who is in no position to receive. Somehow it’s not a turnover and Brand is able to pick up the pieces upfield.
Here again Leupolz receives with immediate intent to turn straight upfield. It’s well-anticipated and she’s closed down from both sides. A pass back to the center-back earlier or using Däbritz as a nearby outlet might have kept this going. Instead, a loose touch results in a harried and risky pass to nowhere. The loss of possession in central spaces turns into a danger situation and a free kick is quickly conceded.
In the second half, Germany appeared to pull wider and use less of the three, fanning nominal left-back Felicitas Rauch more to the wing. But the benefit could be as much or more from the changing game state, and errant passes from the center-backs should have resulted in a goal at least once — as in Morocco’s 51st minute strike into the back of the net called back for offside.
Wolfsburg star defensive midfielder Lena Oberdorf’s return to the six — whenever she’s fully fit and cleared to play — should be a massive boost.
Shout-outs and miscellaneous observations
- Bayern’s Lea Schüller shone bright in her substitute appearance. In the 68th minute, she sent fellow substitute Nicole Anyomi (Eintracht Frankfurt) clear down the right wing with a gorgeous first-time hit over the top.
- Anyomi returned the favor for Germany’s sixth goal in the 90th minute by winning the ball, then sending Laura Freigang (Frankfurt) down the right. Schüller punctuated the move — and the game — with a first-time low strike.
- Svenja Huth (Wolfsburg) is making a nice adaptation to right-back / right wing-back from winger. She was one of the front three last summer, often Bühl’s opposite number. This move is allowing both of them, plus Brand, to get on the field at the same time.
- Those loose passes out from central defense are concerning. Easy to imagine one of those becoming a game-defining moment in a tight knockout stage match. It only takes one.
- By the numbers: possession — Germany 75%. Shots on target — Germany 7, Morocco 4. Pass accuracy — Germany 86%, Morocco 62%.
See you back Sunday for the 5:30 AM EST match against Colombia!