U21 head coach Stefan Kuntz: "We still have a lot to learn when we face teams who like to line up deep."
Germany’s U21s have a successful October behind them after earning a respectable draw in a friendly against Spain and a 2-0 away win in their European qualifier against Bosnia-Herzegovina. Head coach Stefan Kuntz spoke with DFB.de editor Karl Evers about the insights the team were able to take from both matches and the growing team spirit within the squad.
DFB.de: Mr. Kuntz, what insight can you draw from the 2-0 win away against Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Stefan Kuntz: We still have a lot to learn when we face teams who like to line up deep. We weren’t dynamic enough, and lacked the key moments or quick passes to bring that into our game. We didn’t always divvy up the space properly and we made an unusually high number of misplaced passes. We defended well against the run of play and deserved to win, in my opinion. However, we need to draw the right insights from the match. If we’re able to use them to continue developing, then this match will have been very important for us in hindsight.
DFB.de: Luca Kilian scored to make it 1-0, and it was his debut goal for Germany at the youth level. How happy were you for him?
Kuntz: I was happy simply because I saw how happy he was (laughs) . He was overjoyed, which was just plain cool. The goal should have allowed us to calm things down, but to be honest, we didn’t really improve much afterwards. That’s why we were so happy that he’d scored. While his goal may have looked easy, I don’t think it was at all.
DFB.de: You then made two changes at halftime.
Kuntz: Exactly, we switched to a 4-4-2. After that we were able to find our way into the match and were able to create more chances, from my point of view.
DFB.de: However, there was still the impression that the match could be turned on its head at any moment. Markus Schubert had to make a spectacular save in the 73rd minute.
Kuntz: That’s true, Bosnia started to be more of a threat midway through the second half and found some self-belief. ‘Schubi’ kept us in it with that save. However, it must be said that I think we did a good job overall of defending and that we made things difficult for ourselves through some minor errors.
DFB.de: Lukas Nmecha scoring to make it 2-0 must have made you very happy. Berisha came off the bench and assisted Nmecha, who had also been subbed on. Did that go as planned?
Kuntz: I’d already made a bit of an ironic comment in an interview prior to the match about how if I were allowed to make five substitutions, then we’d naturally score more goals (laughs) . The goal that Lukas Nmecha scored wasn’t an easy one, and neither was Mergim Berisha’s assist. We were able to create a goal from a difficult situation, which just goes to show where we’re currently at.
DFB.de: Mergim Berisha was one of the new players within the U21 squad. Prior to this international break, both he and Orestis Kiomourtzoglu had never featured at the youth level for Germany before. How pleased are you with both of their performances?
Kuntz: Mergim Berisha made his first competitive appearance and played very well during those few minutes that he was on. It is true that we decided not to take Orestis Kiomourtzoglu to Bosnia-Herzegovina in the end. I have to say that it was really hard to send him home, especially because he gave a really good account of himself. In the meantime, our options have definitely increased.
DFB.de: What insights have you gained from the last week and a half with the team?
Kuntz: From the game against Spain I learned that if we give it our all, we can compete with a top opponent for long periods. But, in Bosnia we realized that if we want to play our game well, we still need to work on concentration, accuracy and intensity. These are the points we need to improve upon for next time.
DFB.de: Aside from what’s happening on the pitch, it appears that the team morale has been significantly lifted in the international break.
Kuntz: Of course, this is partly due to the fact that lots of the players knew each other already from the various youth teams. In addition, everyone in the U21 team including the backroom staff contribute to the overall good mood. The guys understand that they can actually achieve something here. They understand the opportunities afforded to them here, which is easier to do if they feel comfortable. Likewise, the work we did with the Waisenhouse Foundation in Frankfurt as part of the #Herzzeigen campaign was a special experience for all and helps the players grow. All told, this has been a good and educational time.
DFB.de: You are now top of Euro qualifying Group 9. Is it where you hoped to be ahead of the big game against Belgium?
Kuntz: Yes, of course. It’s good that we’ve had a whole week to train before the Belgium game. After all, as we’ve seen, there are some things that we still need to work on. Therefore, this longer preparation time is optimal, and with it, we should be well prepared for the game.