While Germany’s senior side are world champions, with their renowned youth teams having laid the foundations for the country’s recent success, there is a gaping hole in their record when it comes to the Olympic Football Tournament. Germany last featured in the competition back in 1988, when subsequent world champions Jurgen Klinsmann and Thomas Hassler led their side to a bronze medal in Seoul – the country’s best-ever footballing result at the Olympics.
This year, coach Horst Hrubesch and his young charges have their sights set on another podium place. In an interview with FIFA.com, the 64-year-old European champion and 1982 FIFA World Cup™ runner-up, who steered the U-21 team to European glory in Sweden back in 2009, explains the significance of the Olympic Football Tournament for him and his players, as well as the challenges of selecting a squad.
FIFA.com: The Olympic Games are a big adventure – what is it that makes this tournament so special?
Horst Hrubesch: It’ll be an adventure for me too, as I’ve never been to the Olympics before but have heard so much about it. For the lads it’s a competition they might only play in once in their lives. You can tell that this is hugely important to the boys, so we’re all looking forward to the tournament.
How can you tell how the players are feeling?
You hear it in their conversations; they’re fired up and keen to go to the Olympics. There are always plenty of stories about the Olympic Village and the whole experience and the lads are naturally excited about that, even though we won’t be in the Village during the group stages. We’ll try our best to get there though.
So would you say the Olympics is important to the players?
That’s always the impression you get when talking to them. When you look at their joy when they achieved that goal; that said it all.
Germany last featured at the Olympics in 1988 – does this make the occasion something very, very special?
Yes, it is definitely something special. We haven’t managed to qualify for the Olympics for all those years, and four years ago we fell at the final hurdle in the decisive match, which was a huge disappointment. It’s also important for us because it’s a meaningful tournament, particularly for young players.
— Rio 2016 (@Rio2016_en) March 26, 2016
Is squad selection difficult when clubs do not automatically release players?
I’ve said from the start that I would love it if the players who secured qualification could be my first choices, but some of them are now too old to represent the side. That said, the current U-21s will ultimately form our Olympic team.
There is the opportunity to take three older players with you. Have you given this any thought?
Currently we do not embrace that idea. We want those who qualified for the Olympics to play. Jurgen Klinsmann’s generation represented Germany at the Olympics back then, and when you hear them talk about it now and the euphoria they describe, then that’s more than enough motivation for all of us.
You said that your target is the gold medal…
Well, I said that Germany aren’t going out there just to take part. If we’re in the tournament, we want to get the best possible result. We’ll do our best to stay in the competition until the very end and if we manage that, we’ll try to win the final too. The lads are going there to play football and win their matches.
How would you rate your opponents? You’ll be familiar with the European teams, but what about those outside Europe?
There are some pretty interesting competitors in the mix. The world is getting smaller so you can get plenty of information these days and the other teams are all going to have pre-tournament friendlies which we can watch. Then there is the draw on 14 April, which will be very interesting.
Do you believe there is a favourite to win the tournament?
I don’t want to name any favourites. All the teams that have qualified can play football. It will depend on which teams have no bad days and can summon up their best form.
— Rio 2016 (@Rio2016_en) March 27, 2016
Much is being said about the 2009 UEFA European U-21 Championship squad you steered to the continental title, with several players ultimately becoming world champions. Was there something special about that group? Why did some go on to win the FIFA World Cup while others failed to win a senior cap?
Even in that 2009 squad, some of the players were still playing in the second tier and only broke through later, and that’s normal. It should also be obvious that you’re not going to get six or seven senior internationals out of every U-21 side. Even in earlier year groups there were players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thomas Muller or Holger Badstuber who made the leap to the first team. There are several candidates again this time around, but there’s a little bit of luck involved, whether that means staying healthy or making the right move to a new club. Players battling relegation in the Bundesliga might not be on our radar as much as those playing on the international stage.
Does the fact that the tournament is being held in Brazil, the setting for Germany’s 2014 FIFA World Cup™ triumph, give you an extra boost?
It is certainly an incentive. We are just looking forward to it, Brazil is simply a football country. I have played in the Maracana myself and am excited to see what it looks like now. It will surely be a highlight.