If you only consider the number of points and the goal difference, the two strongest teams at this year’s U21 European Championship in Italy and San Marino face each other in Thursday’s first semi-final. Group B winners Germany take on Group C winners Romania in Bologna at 18:00 CEST. In an interview ahead of the last four clash, Levin Öztunali spoke about the semi-final and his title winning experiences from the 2017 U21 European Championship.
DFB.de: Levin Öztunali, you have played three matches in the space of just six days in hot summer temperatures here in north-eastern Italy. How are you feeling?
Levin Öztunali: I’m feeling good and the team are all in high spirits after we secured our semi-final spot. It is true a European Championship can take a lot out of you. In the best case scenario we will play five matches in the space of just two weeks. However, we like this fast rhythm and have always been able to regenerate between matches. We are doing exactly the same ahead of Thursday’s semi-final.
DFB.de: Temperatures could rise up as high as 40 degrees for kick-off on Thursday evening. Does this play a particular role in your match preparations?
Öztunali: Naturally this match will be tougher and more tiring as a result of the heat. That means we will have to drink more over the course of the day and probably take some drink breaks during the game. However, this doesn’t play much of a role in the squad’s preparations.
DFB.de: What are you expecting from Romania on Thursday?
Öztunali: I don’t believe everyone expected Romania to top a group that featured both France and England. They scored four goals in both of their opening two group matches and surprised their opponents. Additionally, they showed against France that they can defend well. They are a tough team to play against and they will certainly make life difficult for us on Thursday. One thing is certain: We won’t underestimate Romania and will patiently search for the spaces on the pitch to play our attacking game. At the same time, everyone on the pitch will have to defend with full concentration. This is the case for the strikers as well as the defenders. We want to seize this opportunity and reach the final again.
DFB.de: How would you summarise the group stage for Germany U21s?
Öztunali: We have now achieved our minimum aim of reaching the semi-finals and securing our place at next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. As a result, the group stage went very well for us. The second group game against Serbia was definitely our best performance of the tournament so far, especially in attack. We made life difficult for ourselves against Austria in the final match but you could also say that we still got the result we needed at that moment in time. In such matches you grow as a team. We want to offer more attacking football in the semi-finals and create more chances to score. It would be even better if I’m able to get on the scoresheet (laughs).
DFB.de: You were part of Stefan Kuntz’s side that won the 2017 U21 European Championship in Poland. What experiences from that tournament are you using to your advantage at this tournament as you look to win your second consecutive title?
Öztunali: I was more of a fringe player at the last European Championship on the bench, whereas I have started all three matches so far in this tournament. I have continued to develop and given some strong performance over the last two years for the U21s. You have already seen in Poland that the team’s success was down to the team spirit and the togetherness in the squad. This is also the case for the current team and that is a good requirement for success. We have spent the last four weeks together and no-one has fallen out with each other. If we continue to deliver these strong performances in the knock-out stages, we can win the U21 Euros title again!