Saturday, 1 July 2017

Seniors Tomorrow?

Against firm favourites Spain, the German U21s won the final yesterday.  Reamarkable when you consider they are under strength as a lot of their regulars are playing for the senior team- also in the final tomorrow against Chile.

Match Report

It was the result that nobody expected. Apart from Germany, that is. After Mitchell Weiser’s brilliant header had sealed the title against the hot favourites Spain, their captain Maximilian Arnold led his players, wearing special T-shirts to commemorate their triumph, on an impromptu jig past the media. Nothing, it seems, is left to chance when it comes to Germany at an international tournament.
With a side packed with top-quality players and boasting the competition’s two best performers in Saúl Ñíguez and Marco Asensio, Spain had been tipped to make short work of opposition who were without seven eligible players who are in action for the senior side at the Confederations Cup in Russia. But in a superb display of teamwork, organisation and commitment from Stefan Kuntz’s side, Weiser’s goal five minutes before the break was enough to seal victory that will certainly not go down well at the Spanish Football Association’s headquarters in Madrid.
“We had a plan and we executed it really well. My team is not easy to play against,” said a delighted Kuntz, who followed up his goalscoring exploits in the Euro 96 semi-final with another penalty triumph over England in the last four of this competition. “Before the tournament, I told my players if you win something like this, everybody will remember you. The penalty shootout against England was watched by close to 10 million people in Germany so my players have made an outstanding reputation for themselves.” He’s not wrong.
Spain’s coach, Albert Celades, had warned his players not to get carried away with the blizzard of plaudits that had come their way since the 5-0 victory over Macedonia in their opening match, with a further seven goals in their wins against Portugal, Serbia and Italy in the semi-final. In contrast to their opponents, perhaps due to their status as underdogs, Germany appeared to be far more relaxed in the build-up, with their manager even performing a rendition of The Chordettes’ hit Mr Sandman in the pre-match press conference.
But everybody knows it is dangerous to underestimate Germany at this stage of any tournament and a fully committed opening period that saw Kuntz’s side give Spain’s star players no opportunity to settle could easily have resulted in them taking the lead. Rumoured Tottenham target Max Meyer was probably the smallest player on the pitch yet his header from Yannick Gerhardt’s fizzing cross cannoned back off the post in the seventh minute with goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga well beaten. Serge Gnabry – up against his former Arsenal team-mate Héctor Bellerín – also created a good chance to score after setting himself up for a volley with an immaculate touch. All Spain had to show for their first efforts were a couple of headed attempts from corners until Saúl seized on a mistake by Gerhardt just after the half-hour mark, only for Stark to block his goal-bound shot.
Germany went ahead just before half-time when Weiser stooped to meet the outstanding Hoffenheim full-back Jeremy Toljan’s low cross and cleverly looped the ball over the helpless Kepa with his head. It was no less than they had deserved and Spain seemed shell-shocked. Their captain Gerard Deulofeu, winning a record 36th cap at this level on the day he rejoined boyhood club Barcelona from Everton for £10.6m, made a point of speaking to referee Benoît Bastien as the teams returned to the pitch for the second half. Within six minutes, both Janik Haberer and Niklas Stark had been shown yellow cards as Germany struggled to repeat the intensity of their first-half approach on a warm night in Krakow.
But aside from long-distance efforts from Saúl and Dani Ceballos, who was named player of the tournament, Germany didn’t look like conceding as they claimed only a second victory at this level, after beating England 4-0 in the 2009 final with a side boasting Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Mesut Özil.
“We knew Germany’s strengths, we’d seen a lot of them,” said Celades. “But every game is different. In the first half they made us suffer, we weren’t comfortable out there, we didn’t like what was happening, we tried to turn things around but it wasn’t to be.”

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