"The key to our success is a compact defence." Germany coach Steffen Freund's explanation for his side's supreme form at the FIFA U-17 World Cup may seem a little surprising at first, especially considering the junior Nationalmannschaft have scored more goals than any other team at the tournament so far.
Yet the UEFA U-17 European Championship 2011 finalists are every bit as effective in their own box as they are in their opponents'. The Germans have conceded just a single goal at Mexico 2011, thanks in large part to goalkeeper Odisseas Vlachodimos, who kindly made time for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com ahead of Thursday's round of 16 clash with USA.
Back to the front
"As a goalkeeper I'm always out to keep a clean sheet," said the 17-year-old. "It's my job to ensure we don't concede. If I can do that, I'm happy. We can be satisfied with our first three matches. We've scored some good goals going forward and I think we've improved with each game."
If the old adage 'strikers win games, defenders win championships' is anything to go by, Germany have every right to be confident of lifting the trophy at the legendary Azteca Stadium on 10 July. Understandably, Vlachodimos is reluctant to look so far ahead: "Of course we're dreaming of the final, but there's a long way to go until then. We're concentrating on our next game against the USA. It's going to be a tough match, but we believe in our qualities and want to progress."
It's my job to ensure we don't concede. If I can do that, I'm happy.
The likeable shot-stopper is just as composed off the pitch as he is on it, so it comes as no surprise that he prefers to look up to likes of former Manchester United star Edwin van der Sar and current Germany No1 Manuel Neuer as opposed to more volatile keepers such Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann.
"Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers in the world but he's also a very good footballer," explained Vlachodimos, who realises he has some way to go before can hope to rival the Bayern Munich star. "He makes some top saves, but he can also deal with the ball at his feet, which a lot of goalkeepers struggled with in the past. Every match is another step forward."
Born in Germany to Greek parents, Vlachodimos was just three years old when he first took up his position between the sticks. His development has been impressive, with many tipping him for a stellar career. Premier League giants Arsenal have reportedly enquired as to his availability, but for now Vlachodimos is concentrating on improving his game with current club Stuttgart, where he will train with the first-team two to three times per week as of next season.
Before our interview with 'Odi' came to a close, we asked him to follow up on tales from his team-mates that the goalkeeper carries out a rather strange pre-match ritual. "Before every match I fling my body against the left-hand post, slap the crossbar and then fling myself at the other post. It makes me feel ready," he explained.
If in some small way Vlachodimos' superstition helps his team progress to the final of Mexico 2011, no-one in Germany will be complaining.