Football fans are insatiable creatures: success only tends to breed appetite for more success. Less than three weeks after that glorious night in the Maracanã, German fans have already switched their hopes and expectations to the next final: on Thursday evening Germany’s national team will play Portugal at Budapest’s Susza Ferenc stadium in the final of the Under-19 Euros.
Barely have schoolchildren memorised the names of that “golden generation” who won both the World Cup and the 2009 Under-21 European Championship, than there is talk of a new generation of extraordinarily talented youngsters. Will Fabian Holthaus one day plug the hole left by Philipp Lahm’s international retirement? Is the rise of Davie Selke a sign that German academies are finally churning out strikers again?
In spite of using a 4-4-2 formation that fell out of fashion with the senior team years ago, the German Under-19s’ ball-retaining, high-pressing game in the competition has sustained comparisons with the performance of the A-team in Brazil. It is hardly surprising that their coach Oliver Sorg is being touted as the most likely candidate to succeed Hansi Flick as the senior team’s assistant coach.
Apart from a 2-2 draw against Serbia, Germany won all of their games in Hungary, beating Austria 4-0 in the semis – even more impressive considering that the most highly-rated German 18 and 19-year-olds hadn’t even travelled to the tournament. The Schalke midfielders Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, Stuttgart striker Timo Werner, Hoffenheim central defender Niklas Süle and Arsenal’s Serge Gnabry all passed up a chance to play in the Euros, either due to injuries or so they could prepare for the next season with their clubs. None of the players in the starting XI played for last season’s top three teams, Bayern, Dortmund or Schalke.
But anyone tempted to conclude that Germany will be “invincible for years” (Franz Beckenbauer’s famous last words in 1990) only need look at the last German Under-19 success for a reality check.
In 2008, Germany’s teenagers won the Euros in Slovenia after beating Italy 3-1 in the final. Of that team, only the goalkeeper Ron-Robert Zieler made it on to the plane to Brazil this year. The Bender twins, Sven and Lars would probably have made the squad had it not been for injuries. Savio Nsereko, awarded the player of the tournament in 2008, has fallen on hard times since joining West Ham for €11m in 2009, and currently plays for FK Atyrau in Kazakhstan. Richard Sukuta-Pasu, who scored four in three games, plays for Circle Bruges, 11th in the Belgian league.
German football officials will be hoping that a win on Thursday will spur the latest crop of talent on to greater things, rather than work as a reminder of wasted potential.
Six German players to watch out for:
1 Davie Selke (Werder Bremen)
With six goals to his tally, the German-Ethiopian forward is already one of the stars of the tournament. But even if Selke were to come home with the golden boot, some commentators put his chances of breaking into the first team lower than those of some of his team-mates. Tall and strong, with a few technical deficiencies but a poacher’s instinct, the Bremen youngster is less reminiscent of Miroslav Klose than Mario Gómez or Stefan Kiessling – two “old fashioned” strikers whose scoring record Joachim Löw has too often been happy to ignore.
2 Fabian Holthaus (VfL Bochum)
Germany’s notorious shortage of wide defenders may play into Holthaus’s hands: a left-footed converted striker playing at left-back, who at 1.78m happens to be too short to play in central defence, the 19-year-old has inevitably been hailed as a potential “new Lahm”. Has so far struggled to break into the first team at second division Bochum, however.
3 Niklas Stark (Nuremberg)
The team’s captain, an elegant defender who can play in central defence as well as defensive midfield. Has by far the best top-league experience in the team, with 24 games for recently relegated Nuremberg.
4 Marc Stendera (Eintracht Frankfurt)
A traditional playmaker who has notched up three assists so far, making him the tournament’s top creator alongside Portugal’s Ivo Rodriguez. Played 10 games for Frankfurt last season, in spite of missing most of the second half with a cruciate ligament injury.
5 Levin Öztunali (Bayer Leverkusen)
Remember it now, because commentators will not fail to point it out over and over again: “Uns Levin” is the grandson of the striking legend Uwe Seeler. Not only liked by pundits but also rated by many experts, who have talked him up as the eventual successor to Sami Khedira in Germany’s central midfield. Played only nine games for Leverkusen last season but is expected to make the jump into the first team during the coming campaign.
6 Julian Brandt (Bayer Leverkusen)
The youngest player in Germany’s squad but already the most widely known after a high-profile transfer from Wolfsburg to Leverkusen during the winter break. Provided rare flashes of inspiration during Leverkusen’s disappointing second half of the season and notched up two watchable goals but has had a relatively quiet tournament so far.