The Germany U21 team can feel relieved during their final European qualifier in Heidenheim against Ireland. As a result of their victory against Norway, Stefan Kuntz’s side are top of their qualification group and have already booked their place at the 2019 European Championship in Italy and San Marino.
In an interview with DFB.de editor Maximilain Schwartz, Stefan Kuntz discusses the final qualifier, gives an insight into the plans for the squad, and outlines the importance of team spirit in the U21 side.
DFB.de: After the final whistle of the game against Norway, one got the impression that it was a big weight off your shoulders.
Stefan Kuntz: Yes of course, a lot of pressure has gone. It’s especially noticeable when you go to sleep with a joyful smile on your face (laughs). It’s logical that the Germany U21 side would qualify for the Euros, seeing as they are the reigning champions. As a result we are unbelievably happy and that’s down to three reasons: Firstly, we achieved our goal. Secondly, the tough game against Norway was a great experience for the players. Lastly, in the game against Ireland, we can let some players play that maybe haven’t had as much time on the pitch.
DFB.de: What experience did the game against Norway give to your players?
Kuntz: Firstly I’d like to say that in the next two to three years, Norway will have an unbelievable quality in their national side. Often we don’t notice how other nations are developing. Therefore I want to express how good this Norwegian side was in both games against us, not only technically but also tactically. We were very happy with the first half on Friday. The players know, however, that there were some good chances that we could have used better in order to go into the break with a stronger lead. After a deflected shot from Norway we lost our safety cushion. We analysed that with the players already. There were phases where it would have done us some good if we had more possession to calm the game down. However the team wanted to continue pushing forward with their play. As a result we lost possession a few times which made the opponents stronger. Towards the end of the match it got better again, because we were able to see the game out, but truth be told we could have decided the game much earlier. The fact that the players experience these types of games and situations is very important for their development.
DFB.de: How are you going about the preparations for the final European qualifier against Ireland?
Kuntz: The squad for the second game has naturally become smaller. The injured Cedric Teuchert and Eduard Löwen have gone back to their clubs to undergo further treatment. Benjamin Henrichs returned to Monaco early since it was important for his development at the club that he be there for the new manager’s arrival. Jonathan Tah has left for the senior team. The players that, as of yet, have not played as frequently as others should get their chance to play. We will have a high level of personal quality on the pitch like never before. We want to win the last qualifier and give the fans in Heidenheim a good. We won’t rest on our laurels.
DFB.de: Can you give us a few insights into the line-up for the game?
Kuntz: Moritz Nicolas will make his debut in goal. He has put in some great work in training and has definitely earned an place on the pitch. We also have Abdelhamid Sabiri and Maximilian Mittelstädt, two boys that are with us for the first time and who we really want to give a run out. Robin Koch had his first game for the U21s against Norway and impressed enough to give himself a second game. Levin Öztunali is just recovering from injury and is slowly getting back into the swing of matches. Felix Udokhai currently doesn’t play much at club level and should therefore get the chance with us. Marcel hartel, Philipp Ochs and Johannes Eggestein are also ready for a run out. That’s a small overview of things.
DFB.de: Since the international games in September you have repeatedly heaped praise of the team’s spirit. Has the team grown together even more through the successful European Championship qualification?
Kuntz: Of course the successful run is helpful in strengthening the team spirit. There will always be situations, however, where the team spirit is put to the test, like when things aren’t going so well, much like in the second half against Norway. The attitude of the players to defend their own goal was very impressive. In the future it will also be about being there for your teammates and reducing mistakes. On and off the field new players will have to be integrated into the team again and again. If our targets continue to be met by the team, then we will be in a great position heading into the European Championship next year.