For a surprisingly long time, German youth teams have failed to reproduce the consistently good results achieved by the senior side. However, many believe the current U-20 crop marks the start of a new era. A stunning triumph at the UEFA European U-19 Championship 2008 in the Czech Republic offered conclusive proof of a giant leap forward in German youth development programmes. Moreover, Horst Hrubesch’s side clearly number among the teams any aspiring candidates for the world crown will have to beat. Their credentials will be put to the test at the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2009 in Egypt, where the Germans logically rate among the favourites for the trophy.
The spine of the team is provided by two groups of players nurtured and honed in the renowned youth sections at Bayer Leverkusen and TSV 1860 Munich. However, all the squad members are infused with the winning mentality embodied by German FA (DFB) Director of Sport Matthias Sammer, who has set the bar high for the association’s youth teams: "We want at least one trophy in 2009." The former world-class midfielder was undoubtedly thinking of Egypt when he spoke.
Despite the high-quality starting field, Germany remained undefeated throughout last year's European U-19 Championship, comfortably sealing a berth at Egypt 2009. Following a shock 2-1 victory over runaway favourites Spain in their opening match, Hrubesch’s team saw off Bulgaria 3-0 and Hungary 2-1, qualifying for the semi-finals as group winners.
Striker Richard Sukuta-Pasu assumed the role of match-winner in the semi-final with a goal in the last minute of extra time to seal a 2-1 victory over hosts the Czech Republic. In the final, the Germans were missing Savio Nsereko with suspension and went a man down with 50 minutes to play after captain Florian Jungwirth collected a second yellow card, but still battled to a 3-1 win against Italy, claiming a maiden continental title at this level.
With a career record of 136 goals in 224 Bundesliga appearances, Horst Hrubesch was one of the most prolific centre-forwards of his day, respected and feared alike for his extraordinary strength in the air. He and his Hamburg team-mates won the league title three times and the European Cup once between 1979 and 1983.
Now aged 57, his coaching career features spells with Dynamo Dresden in the Bundesliga, and the remarkable feat of guiding promoted Rot-Weiss Essen to a tenth-placed finish in the second division. He joined the DFB in 2000. The European Championship triumph in the Czech Republic is his greatest success as a coach to date.
There is undoubtedly more to Hrubesch’s team than typically German attributes of disciplined defending and outstanding teamwork. Their play in the final third is characterised by an abundance of individual class, specifically in the shape of the burly Sukuta-Pasu of Bayer Leverkusen.
Germany failed to qualify for the previous tournament in Canada two years ago.
Their solitary FIFA World Cup win at this level came back in 1981 in Australia, when West Germany defeated Qater 4-0 in the final.
What they said
"We intend to play like the reigning European champions we are. That means we want to impose our authority, control matches with attacking play, make our physical presence felt, and demonstrate our footballing quality as well." Germany coach Horst Hrubesch