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Attack of the ponytails

As the World Cup in France kicks-off, women's football is now more prominent than ever. Top players like Alexandra Popp confidently demand the recognition they deserve for their sport.

An idyllic Sunday, at Lake Chiemsee. At the Golf Resort, Achental, the German national women's football team is preparing for the football World Cup in France. The evening before, Bayern Munich won the DFB (German Football Federation) Cup final in Berlin with the majority of the best German female footballers, understandably, watching on the big screen located in the lounge, or during their massage. “We all enjoy watching men's football,” said captain Alexandra Popp, 28, during an interview on the hotel terrace in Achental. Do you think the DFB men also enjoy watching women's football? “Phew, hard to say,” says Popp grinning.

“We don't need balls, we have ponytails”

Alexandra Popp (2nd from left) with team members and the new T-Roc. Volkswagen has been the DFB's mobility partner since the beginning of the year

In the last few weeks, women’s football has been on everyone’s lips in Germany, more than ever. It was not so much about the great sporting successes or the prospects for the upcoming World Cup as about the social status quo, which the marketing campaign of a DFB sponsor provocatively addressed. Their slogan: “We don't need balls, we have ponytails.” The short clip was an instant internet hit. Anne Will, a renowned German political talk show host, enthusiastically retweeted the clip, commenting “Incredible Advertisement,” while the football platform, onefootball.com, wrote: “A charmingly wrapped middle finger for all the prejudices and resentments that women's football still has to fight with today.” Even the Federal President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who visited the DFB women the day before and letting the people of Germany know that a women's World Cup would be taking place in a few days, was impressed: “It's really cool!”

The different perceptions of women's and men's football in Germany are still great – but women are more self-confident than ever when it comes to promoting their sport currently. Encouraged by worldwide women’s movements such as #Timesup, women football players also want to achieve the status their sport has long been due. And the successes are impressive. Between 1995 and 2013, the DFB team won six consecutive European Championship titles, followed by the Olympic gold medal in 2016. Alongside the US team, Germany's football women are the most successful team in the world. And among the clubs, Bayern Munich and VfL Wolfsburg have been at the forefront of the Champions League title for years – VfL Wolfsburg, supported by Volkswagen, have even won Europe's top title twice.

The US is inspiring

With VfL Wolfsburg, where she has played since 2012, Alexandra Popp won the German championship five times

The long-term cooperation with Volkswagen as the DFB's new mobility partner encourages the whole team, alongside with the positive developments in countries such as Denmark, Norway or defending champions, the USA. There, the fight for more recognition has already led to a much higher popularity of women's football. In the run-up to the World Cup, Popp reports, her team also consulted intensively with the DFB on plans to bring women’s football more into the limelight. One important point: synergies for both teams. “When you see… hey, our men are fully behind us and you would make one or two marketing appointments together, that would be important. Ideally supported by a successful World Cup.” As a captain, she is particularly driven – on and off the pitch.

Alexandra Popp was appointed as the new captain of the national team, since the beginning of the year, succeeding Dzsenifer Marozsán, who sustained a long-term injury.  The 28-year-old has been with the team for a long time, has the second highest number of international appearances with 95 matches and is a role model within the team due to her versatility. The natural striker, who has scored 69 goals in DFB dress so far, has developed into an all-rounder in recent years, of the kind rarely seen in world football. She can play in defensive midfield; in the Champions League final in 2014 she was a left-back defender for Wolfsburg. “I am very mentally strong and can lead the team very well with my way of playing football on the pitch. In this respect, I am the ideal link between the team and the coaching team.”

New level of technology and speed

She is someone, says Popp, who can become animated and loud on the pitch, who says what she thinks, even if she has to apologize to other players or referees afterwards. At least there, women and men's football are very similar, Alexandra Popp believes. “Guys who squabble are rare on both sides.” If she wants to take women's football to the next level, her temperament could be an advantage. The Popp-star of German women’s football does not simply want to accept that it should be so difficult to market women more effectively in view of the great popularity of football in Germany. “Technically, we are now playing at a very high level. What has developed the most is the speed of women's football. You can see that.” 

Their goal is clear: “That every football fan in Germany and elsewhere knows the names and faces of the top players. And that every player in the top leagues can live from football.” The DFB women now want to set the next impulse in this direction in France. But Alexandra Popp wants even more: “We have a duty not only to bring women's football to the World Cup, but also to make it sustainable.” So that younger female players will soon no longer have to earn the broad public interest because it has long since become a matter of course.

On 8 June at 3 pm, the DFB national team – the two-time World Champion – will enter the World Cup with its match against China. German channel ZDF broadcasts live.