Germany U21s will face Denmark tonight in the quarterfinals of the European Championship at Székesfehérvár in Hungary. Stefan Kuntz’s team is well up for the clash. 23-year-old defender Amos Pieper spoke to DFB.de about the match and his first Bundesliga season.
DFB.de: Mr. Pieper, you’ve had a busy few weeks. You secured Bundesliga safety recently with Arminia Bielefeld and now you’re preparing for the quarterfinal against Denmark. It’s not a bad time for you, is it?
Amos Pieper: Yeah, it’s a pretty good feeling. Reaching the 30-point mark was pretty amazing for us and going into the final day with our fate in our own hands was good too. Staying up is a huge success and everyone in Bielefeld is delighted about it. Being called up to the U21s again is also a great feeling. It’s always special when Stefan Kuntz tells you that you’re in the squad. We had a good time at the training camp and now we’re excited for the Denmark game.
DFB.de: You’ve just finished your first season in the Bundesliga. What will you take from it?
Pieper: My aim was to play as often as possible and then look back and see what worked well and what didn’t. I try to do this after every season. For me and a number of my teammates, it was a completely new experience playing Bundesliga players and in some cases world-class players. Considering that, the season went really well. However, I’ve still got some situations in my head that I could have dealt better with.
DFB.de: What situations were those? Can you remember examples?
Pieper: I made a really bad mistake leading to a goal for the only time this season in the game at Leipzig. I learned that you shouldn’t try to play it around the back too much against a side of that class. Aside from that, I could have defended better for two of the three penalties I gave away. I didn’t need to dive in.
DFB.de: What positive moments did you have, aside from avoiding relegation?
Pieper: Nobody can take my goal at Bayern away from me. The first half was one of the best performances for both me and the team this season. The way we performed and the football we played was outstanding. Unfortunately, games have two halves (laughs). There were other good moments too. We kept 11 clean sheets, which, as a defensive unit including Stefan Ortega, we can be proud of.
DFB.de: Let’s talk about the U21s. The squad has been together for a week again now. A lot of players have arrived on the back of good experiences and successes, but things are getting serious now. How noticeable has the switch from fun to focus been?
Pieper: A lot of us had a good finish to the season. Nevertheless, it’s been a tiring year. For some of us, it was the first full season as a professional or in the Bundesliga. A lot of the lads were slightly tired last week. Thankfully, our doctors, physiotherapists and coaches have ensured we have recovered well so we could train intensively before the quarterfinal. It’s been a good mix. We were all excited for the tournament anyway, but we’re now all mentally and physically ready.
DFB.de: Would you describe yourself as a leader?
Pieper: I think I’ve taken this role on, yes. One good thing here though is that we can spread the responsibility out. We’ve got six or seven leaders in the team, who have been in the U21s or other youth national sides for a long time. When someone is missing, like Niklas Dorsch (banned), other lads step up. We’ve got a really good structure in the team.
DFB.de: What does the coach want from you and other leaders?
Pieper: He recently praised Ridle Baku and Nico Schlotterbeck for their intensity in training after a tiring season. I think you could praise a lot of the lads for this. We have players that lead the way with their mentality, attitude and performances – in training and in important games.
DFB.de: You played at centre-back with Nico Schlotterbeck in the group fixtures. Is it helpful to have players settled in in such a key position?
Pieper: Definitely. We worked well together in the group stage. It’s really important to be able to rely on your centre-back partner. If you lose a challenge, they are there to help you out.
DFB.de: What are your strengths as a centre-back?
Pieper: I’m an uncompromising defender. I’ve developed myself in the last two years to try and make sure I win every challenge near my goal. I want to win aerial battles, be a tough tackler and position myself well. I need to be awake for the full 90 minutes. Looking at our three games in the group, I think you could see Nico and I did well on the ball too. That could be because we had a good education coming through our youth academies.
DFB.de: Denmark won all three of their games in the group. What will you need to do to knock them out?
Pieper: We need to play like we did in the group stage. Their record is obviously impressive, especially beating France. We know their strengths but we also know how well we’ve played. Although our progression to the knockouts was tight, we all felt like we had done well. If we can carry on like that, and get some more energy and passion into our game, I’m optimistic.
DFB.de: What kind of game are you expecting?
Pieper: We want to play our game and we will be desperate to reach the next round. I know Denmark will want to as well, but we will want it more!