Just 18 days after their triumph at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™, German football has another reason to celebrate. On Thursday evening, Die Mannschaft won the UEFA EURO U-19 Championship title, meaning they will travel to next year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand as continental champions.
Coach Marcus Sorg’s team were in impressive form in Hungary, and their 1-0 final victory over Portugal reinforced their status as the most consistent side at the tournament. The fact that neither Spain – the competition’s most successful team in this age group – nor reigning U-20 world champions France managed to qualify for the finals further illustrated the quality of the field and Germany's strength.
Germany’s U-19s were the only unbeaten side in the competition, scoring the most goals (12) while conceding the fewest (two) en route to victory. Their campaign consisted of four wins and a 2-2 draw against defending champions Serbia, the only match in which their goalkeeper was beaten. Striker Davie Selke also ended the competition as top scorer, with six goals to his name.
The newly crowned European champions achieved all of this despite being forced to compete without several established first-choice squad members who are preparing for the new season with their Bundesliga clubs and could not travel to Hungary.
52 becomes eight
Germany’s path to continental glory began in autumn last year, when 52 teams set out not only to lift the European Championship trophy but to secure one of the six U-20 World Cup spots up for grabs. Finally, the seven best teams and the tournament’s hosts went head-to-head for the continental U-19 title between 19 and 31 July.
Portugal progressed from Group A with ease after three wins over Austria, Hungary and Israel, before defeating defending champions Serbia on penalties in the semi-final. Meanwhile, Germany set the benchmark in Group B, emerging as group winners after two victories over Ukraine and Bulgaria and the 2-2 draw against the Balkan side. The eventual champions gave neighbours Austria no chance in their penultimate game, recording an emphatic 4-0 win before Hany Mukhtar’s 39th-minute strike against their Iberian opponents settled matters in the final.
“We’re unbelievably happy!” Sorg exclaimed after the final whistle. “We were the best team for the entire tournament and in the final. The lads earned this title and now it’s theirs forever. I’m very proud to coach this side.”
National team coach Joachim Low paid tribute to the achievement on the DFB's official website, saying: “Hearty congratulations to everybody involved in this success – the team played a fantastic tournament. This European Championship showed that German football has a whole wealth of new talent to look forward to.” World champion Lukas Podolski tweeted: “Incredible lads! Enjoy the celebrations!”
Next stop New Zealand
The latest win marked Germany’s third victory in six finals in this age category. Back in 1981, when the competition was still the U-18 European Championship, Roland Wohlfarth scored the only goal against Poland for a team that went on to lift the World Cup later the same year. In 2008, a German side including current senior internationals Sven and Lars Bender along with Ron-Robert Zieler emerged triumphant against Italy.
The question of who would play in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand between 30 May and 20 June 2015 was answered as soon as the group stages drew to a close. Hungary and Ukraine, who both finished third in their respective groups, will join the four semi-finalists in Oceania next year.
“We want to continue developing until the World Cup and go there to win it,” Portugal coach Helio Sousa explained to UEFA.com with one eye already fixed firmly on his team’s next set of targets. Austrian midfielder Francesco Lovric further reinforced the idea of the European Championship as a stepping stone to the world title, saying: “Our main aim was to qualify for the World Cup, so reaching the semi-final is a huge achievement for us. Now we can start planning for the future.”
That future is New Zealand, where the European sextet will compete with the best teams from across the globe for youth football’s most coveted accolade and prove whether they have what it takes to follow in France’s footsteps.