Germany's brightest young talents are brimming with confidence, but are also taking a realistic view of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009, which will begin on 24 October. Marco Pezzaiuoli's team know expectations are running higher than normal after their success in the European finals, but the 40-year-old coach rejects any suggestion they are under pressure to win at the global showdown.
"The World Cup is a completely different tournament, so it's a totally new challenge for my players," Pezzaiuoli pointed out to FIFA.com. "We're off to Africa, where some of the games will take place in severe heat and humidity. We're not counting ourselves among the favourites."
There is no question that the recent triumph at continental level has served as a major confidence boost in the German camp. However, they have been drawn in a very tough group, along with the hosts, Argentina and Honduras, so Pezzaiuoli is at pains to unburden his charges of the expectation which could hinder their title charge.
The Europeans have nothing but respect for their upcoming opponents. "We've definitely landed in a tough group," said Pezzaiuoli. "The Nigerians are among the best in the world at this age, because they're incredibly athletic and strong as individuals.
"There's not a lot to add about Argentina, who are always technically outstanding and have their famed fighting spirit to fall back on. And Honduras are one of those teams you simply mustn't underestimate."
Germany face Nigeria in the opening game at the National Stadium, Abuja. The tension and excitement are already tangible. "Working with these lads is unbelievably enjoyable. We've shaped them, and all I can say now is how terrific it is to be joining them in a one-off experience like a World Cup," an excited Pezzaiuoli declared, although he sounded a note of caution too: "My lads are aiming high.
"They all want to play professionally. But they mustn't forget that each tournament is a small piece in the jigsaw on the way. I'm looking forward to watching how they come on day by day in Nigeria, an experience which will help shape their characters."
German teams have taken European titles at U-17, U-19 and U-21 levels recently, but developing young individuals remains the priority in junior international football. "What matters to me is seeing how my players deal with critical situations and how they manage in taking on responsibility. This is all about personal development," explained Pezzaiuoli. "With this in mind, it'll be interesting to see what kind of impression we make in Nigeria."
On fringe of global elite
At the European championship on home soil some four months ago, players who caught the eye included Werder Bremen striker Lennart Thy, and midfield duo Christopher Buchtmann (Liverpool) and Mario Gotze (Borussia Dortmund). However, Pezzaiuoli is unwilling to single out one individual above the rest. "Things change extremely quickly at this age," said the coach, describing his charges as "determined, hard-working and ambitious, but modest with it."
The coach's personal contribution to that collective modesty should not be underestimated. By playing down expectations that the European champions will roar off the clocks and shake up the world hierarchy simply by touching down in west Africa, Pezzaiuoli has ensured his team will be anything but arrogant.
Whatever happens, the coach will stick to his principles: "We're still way off the world elite. I see the Brazilians out in front, due to their individual class." This self-effacing approach could yet be Germany's recipe for success in Nigeria.