The Germany U21 Men’s national team ended the year with a defeat to Poland and a victory over San Marino. Head coach Antonio Di Salvo spoke to dfb.de about the events of the last two matches of 2021 and gave us his summary of an impressive year for the U21s.
DFB.de: Mr. Di Salvo, you lost one and won the other of the last two games of the year, and both matches ended 4-0. How would you sum up the last international break of 2021?
Antonio Di Salvo: We wanted to win both of our final matches of the year, however we were unable to do so. We fell asleep at the start of the Poland game and made basic errors which led to us conceding easy goals. We then went a man down which made it easy for our opponent to play it around us. The team wasn’t working for each other very well, and we lost our willingness to defend our goal. We need to split up the story of our international matches into two parts. First of all, the opening 20 minutes against Poland, which were catastrophic, but then we reacted to this poor period. Even when we were outnumbered on the pitch, we got back into the game by seeing lots of the ball and even creating some chances to get back in it. We then won convincingly in our second match of the break, and I was pleased with our performance on the whole. However, there were some aspects from the ‘second part’ of the international break which we need to work on.
DFB.de: And what are those aspects?
Di Salvo: Things like a lack of precision in our play, the need for greater determination or consistency of the players’ performances – both in front of goal and when defending our own.
DFB.de: How pleased were you with the 4-0 win against San Marino?
Di Salvo: I’m pleased with the reaction the team showed following the Poland game. That was our main aim for the fixture. We started the game well and created some crystal-clear chances in the opening minutes. We absolutely deserved to take the lead and then to double our advantage so soon afterwards. But then our play was lacking in tempo a little, and our structure needed to improve. Because of this, we made it a little bit harder for ourselves, but overall, we fashioned more than enough opportunities, but we didn’t turn enough of them into goals.
DFB.de: To what extent does the San Marino performance make up for the 4-0 defeat against Poland?
Di Salvo: The lads weren’t at all nervous going into the second game following the tough loss and attacked from the first whistle, which was positive to see. We shouldn’t compare the two games though, ultimately. With all due respect to San Marino, we were never going to make up for the Poland defeat in this game. We’re going to have to do that in March, when we face trickier opposition in Latvia and Israel. We want to go one step further.
DFB.de: At the end of the international break, you only had 16 outfield players available, and your squad was somewhat depleted by this point.
Di Salvo: We were missing players even before the international break began. Josha Vagnoman was still unable to join us, and Malik Tillman, Jordan Beyer and Maximilian Beyer were also unavailable. We’ve also lost players like Tom Krauß, Youssoufa Moukoko, Márton Dárdai and Robert Massimo due to injury, and Jean Manuel Mbom was sent off against Poland, all of which saw our squad become significantly depleted by the end. Thankfully that didn’t pose us too many problems in our second match.
DFB.de: You were forced to improvise when it came to choosing a right-back for the San Marino game. Two players who usually play in defensive midfield in Yannik Keitel and Eric Martel played 45 minutes each on the right side of defence. How did they get on?
Di Salvo: It wasn’t easy for either of them, but they put in a tidy performance, even when it appeared obvious at times during the game that they weren’t used to playing at right-back. Both are very strong defenders and so I would consider them both to be an option there against stronger opposition.
DFB.de: The next Germany U21 games are at the end of March 2022. How will you and your coaching staff make use of the long gap in the fixture schedule?
Di Salvo: What’s important now is that we keep in contact with the players, whether it’s over the phone, via messages or even a visit to their clubs. That goes for players who have already been a part of our squads and also those who are yet to receive a call-up. We want to give everyone a chance to be named in an U21 squad next year.
DFB.de: A special year for the U21s is coming to an end. How would you describe it in one word?
Di Salvo: Development.
Di Salvo: I use this word initially in reference to the last year group, who came on tremendously as a team and as individuals in the build-up to and during the European Championship. The team was on brilliant form at the tournament. After the opening round of the tournament in March I started to believe that we could achieve great things with this squad. Following our 1-1 draw with the Netherlands it became clear to me that we’re a tough team to beat and that the lads execute their game plan very well. We kept progressing as a unit game by game and deservedly won the title come the end of the tournament, even though we had to overcome several obstacles on the way. The new year group have just come across their first obstacle, which they now need to overcome. That’s why I think development is a suitable word to describe this year for us at the U21s.
DFB.de: It’s also a suitable word to describe yourself, as you went from assistant coach to head coach.
Di Salvo: That’s right. After all these years as assistant coach, I was ready for the next step, and now I’ve had a chance to take that next step and I’ve noticed that it’s absolutely been the right move for me. I’m really enjoying the role.