The FIFA U-17 World Cup Korea 2007 kicks off on 18 August and, after missing out on the past three tournaments, Germany are back in the mix this time around.
The German youngsters qualified for the finals by clinching fifth place at the UEFA European U-17 Championship in Belgium in May, beating old rivals the Netherlands 3-2 in a play-off. FIFA.com met with one of the side's outstanding talents, forward Richard Sukuta-Pasu.
He is 17-years-old, stands 1.84 metres high and weighs in at almost 80 kilos. Bayer Leverkusen's Richard Sukuta-Pasu is the type of athlete football coaches dream about. "He is a really pleasant person and willing to learn, with the God-given qualities to be a good footballer," says former Bundesliga pro and coach Jurgen Gelsdorf, who now runs Leverkusen's centre of excellence. "Richard is very strong physically, has great technical ability and is extremely fast as well. All-in-all, that makes for a dangerous player."
Sukuta-Pasu's parents came to Germany from the Congo more than 40 years ago. He was born in Wuppertal and moved only recently to Leverkusen. At Bayer, he is also currently training to be a sports and fitness equipment salesman. His own sporting career began in his home town, probably best known for its monorail suspension railway, the oldest of its kind in the world. "My father wanted me to occupy myself with something productive, so that I didn't end up hanging around the streets. I started out playing basketball but soon realised I preferred football," Sukuta-Pasu told FIFA.com.
After knocking in goals aplenty for Grun-Weiss Wuppertal, he joined Bayer Leverkusen in 2000 and quickly established himself as one of the club's brightest youth prospects. His outstanding form earned him a place in the U-19 side, with whom he recently won the German League Championship.
For Sukuta-Pasu, that title is every bit as significant as his successes on the international stage. "It's great to win the German Championship. It's not something that happens every day. But the UEFA U-17 finals in Belgium were a special experience for me as well - even if things didn't go quite to plan for us," he says, looking back.
The young striker has vivid memories of two matches in particular at the tournament. "The games against Spain and the Netherlands really stick in the mind. Against Spain (0-0), I should have scored the winner, but didn't, unfortunately. And in the play-off decider against the Netherlands (3-2) I managed to put us through to the World Cup finals late on. That was a great feeling."
Next up for "Richy" and his team-mates is Korea 2007. Germany, with Heiko Herrlich at the helm in his first high-profile coaching post, are in Group F along with Ghana, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago. "Korea will be unknown territory for us, but that just makes it all the more exciting," says Richard. "I've never been anywhere in Asia, to say nothing of Korea, and as yet we don't know all that much about the other teams in the group. But our coach will have us prepared and up to speed on the opposition in time."
The precocious 17-year-old comes across in conversation as self-confident, mentally tough and incredibly mature for his age. Little wonder, then, that Richard Sukuta-Pasu is decidedly upbeat about Germany's prospects at the finals. "Every team taking part in Korea deserves our respect. But we're not afraid of anyone. We're a strong side, we have a realistic shot at the title and I aim to do my bit by contributing as many goals as possible."