After the German U21 national side’s first ever victory away at England, coach Stefan Kuntz spoke to DFB.de’s Maximilian Schwartz about his team’s recent performances, his thoughts ahead of the European Championship in June and debutant Lukas Nmecha.
DFB.de: Stefan Kuntz, after the 2-2 against France and the 2-1 in England, what conclusions can you take from the two games?
Stefan Kuntz: In both games there were consistent spells where we played close to the limit. Therefore as a coaching team we have to give praise to the players. Of course there are areas where we noticed we needed to improve. Overall, we have picked up valuable insights for the European Championship.
DFB.de: What did you manage to do well over the two games?
Kuntz: We played very well in the first halves of both games. Unfortunately we conceded against England right before the break, and against France both of their goals came in the second half. From then on, we improved, as we held England very well. As England threatened more, we defended very well and remained in control of the game. Against England, our substitutions didn’t change the flow of the game, but still had an effect. I am very pleased that the players were able to reward their performance with the last minute win.
DFB.de: Felix Uduokhai grabbed the winner in added time. Would you say it was a lucky win?
Kuntz: Of course, but also a deserved one. You need a little bit of luck, and we earned it last night. That is the mentality that we want to instill into the players. It is impressive to see how the players performed when you consider the amount of game time they get with their clubs. Benjamin Henrichs, Mo Dahoud and Felix Uduokhai are just a few examples. That isn’t taken for granted.
DFB.de: Unbeaten in 2018, comfortable qualification to the European Championship, recent victories against the Netherlands, Italy and England and a well fought draw against a strong French side. Do you see yourselves as favourites for the upcoming European tournament in Italy and San Marino?
Kuntz: The results from the last few weeks and months don’t mean anything if we go and lose the first group game. Therefore, we will take the results with us and not use them to take anything for granted. Ahead of the tournament we have picked up some important results and experienced the winning feeling. We will be put to the test in the group games against Denmark, Serbia and Austria.
DFB.de: You called up Lukas Nmecha to the national team, who had previously represented England. Even shortly before the game, it was still unknown if FIFA would allow him to play. You didn’t tell the team of the decision until after you’d arrived in the stadium – can you explain the reaction of the players?
Kuntz: It was quite an emotional situation. We first heard the good news when we arrived in the stadium, then I told Lukas and the others as we walked out onto the pitch for the inspection. We were all so happy. Of course, it wasn’t an easy decision for Lukas to switch allegiance, but that speaks for the atmosphere of our U21s squad and its staff, who create a great and professional atmosphere in which the boys feel comfortable. And of course for the team, who made Lukas feel welcome in such a short space of time. Of course, he has helped himself because of his personality.
DFB.de: Owen Hargreaves, a former English international and FC Bayern player, described Nmecha’s decision as a “great move” and also praised the attacker’s skill.
Kuntz: On one hand, we have noticed Lukas’ talent. On the other hand, we started to get to know him and his family as people, away from the field. We heard that he would like to play for Germany and got in contact with him. I was invited to meet his family and everything worked out. It shows that you also have to value every footballer as a person, especially in this case.mmc/bh ###more###