Confronted with the loss of a key player, some coaches might wail and gnash their teeth, or even use the fact as an excuse for a defeat. But other bosses take such setbacks in their stride, confident in their squad’s strength in depth.
Germany coach Steffen Freund adopted the latter approach when, following a 6-1 victory over Ecuador in the first group match at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, he lost his vice-captain Robin Yalcin to a stomach bug for the next two games.
“You're always gutted when you miss out, especially at a World Cup," commented Yalcin. “But I have total faith in our squad. We've not just come here with the 21 best U-17 players in Germany, we're here as 21 really good friends. There's an amazing team spirit, and we have enough quality in the squad to compensate for injuries and suspensions," the player told FIFA.com.
Robin returns against USA
Sure enough, the Germans comfortably overcame Burkina Faso 3-0 and Panama 2-0 without the influential midfielder. “We can be satisfied with our performance," he said, “four wins from four matches, with 15 goals scored and only one conceded, shows just how good we are." The VfB Stuttgart hopeful beavers away in the German engine room alongside captain Emre Can. “He's one of our leading players," Freund confirmed, “he’s responsible for the balance between defence and attack."
We've not just come here with the 21 best U-17 players in Germany, we're here as 21 really good friends.
The 17-year-old Yalcin was back in the starting line-up for the impressive 4-0 victory over USA. He made no secret of his delight afterwards: “I was delighted to be back. There's nothing worse than sitting it out and being unable to help the team. Just ask Okan Aydin, who was suspended after a red card."
The dream lives on
Monday brings the next challenge against one of Germany's greatest rivals. “England are a huge footballing nation, and it's a classic clash," the player declared. “We know it'll be tough, although we did win 3–1 at the Algarve Cup a few months ago. Obviously, a repeat result would be great."
Yalcin was unaware that a previous German generation beat England 4-1 in the quarter-finals at the U-17 World Cup in Korea in 2007, but on being informed of this, felt it could only be a good omen. “Our target now is the semi-finals. And every boy will tell you he dreams of playing in a final at the legendary Azteca Stadium, in front of a crowd which may be as much as 100,000."
“My job is to lead the team together with Emre and Odi [keeper Odisseas Vlachodimos]. My strength is definitely switching the play after recovering possession, although I don't regard myself as just a ball-winner. I try to model my play on [England and Chelsea midfielder] Frank Lampard."
Comparisons with Augenthaler
The holding midfielder is a textbook product of the German FA scouting and youth development system. The Deggendorf-born player was spotted playing at county and regional level before his call-up to the national setup. Back at home in rural Lower Bavaria, his family and friends gather to scrutinise his every appearance, and to contact the junior international on a daily basis.
For dyed in the wool Germany fans, the mention of Lower Bavaria and top-class football in the same breath conjures up memories of a former world-class defender, namely Klaus Augenthaler, a FIFA World Cup™ winner in 1990 and seven-time German champion. The media are only too happy to make the connection, but Robin is a much more modest fellow than that. “Obviously, it's an honour to be compared to Auge, but he achieved so much for so long. I'm a long, long way off that," the midfielder stated.
Nevertheless, Yalcin does have one thing in common with both Augenthaler and Lampard, as all three have appeared at a FIFA U-17 World Cup. Here and now in summer 2011, the up-and-coming midfield talent is hoping his contribution will continue right through to next Sunday.