Last year’s finalists and 2009’s winners kicked off this year’s U-17 European Championship with a hard fought Group A win against Georgia. Stefan Böger’s team started poorly and were outplayed in the first half before coming out of their shell in the second to turn the match. Max Meyer’s goal was the difference in the end and a much improved second half display was encouraging for one of the tournament favorites.
Qualifying and Final Squad
Germany’s recent success at the youth level have made them favorites alongside last year’s winners Netherlands. In 2009 Götze, Ter Stegen and Bernd Leno were just three of the names that lifted the trophy and have made a name for themselves in German football since. A successful qualifying campaign and a 25 match unbeaten run under coach Böger have only added to those expectations. This year a host of talent has traveled to Slovenia to try and reach their third consecutive final. This is the full squad:
Goalkeepers: Oliver Schnitzler (Bayer Leverkusen), Marvin Schwäbe (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Defenders: Kevin Akpoguma (Karslruher SC), Jeremy Dudzkiak (Borussia Dortmund), Pascal Itter (Nürnberg), Marc Oliver Kempf (Eintracht Frankfurt), Marian Sarr (Bayer Leverkusen), Niklas Süle (Hoffenheim)
Midfielders: Nico Brandenburger (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Maximilian Dittgen (Schalke), Leon Goretzka (VfL Bochum), Max Meyer (Schalke), Nilas Stark (Nürnberg), Marc Stendera (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Forwards: Said Benkarit (Borussia Dortmund), Julian Brandt (Wolfsburg), Felxi Lohkemper (Stuttgart), Timo Werner (Stuttgart)
Germany’s starting line up (4-2-3-1) Schnitzler – Itter, Sarr, Süle, Dudzkiak – Brandenburger, Brandt – Dittgen, Goretzka, Meyer – Benkarit
Despite coming into the match, and tournament, as underdogs, Georgia were no pushovers. Their defensive organization and solid football helped eliminate England and Spain in qualifying and also made it very difficult for the Germans. A sluggish first half did not allow either teams too much room. Germany were uncharacteristically poor with their passing with much of their build up breaking down past the halfway line. Star player Goretzka was also unusually off his game. Usually the team’s metronome and leader, his passing lacked confidence and led to many turnovers in midfield. Böger said before the match that Georgia’s defense was difficult to break up and that proved correct in the first half. Germany’s only noteworthy chances came after an attack down the left by fullback Dudziak who set up star striker Benkarit but his shot went over and the other a hopeful long distance shot by Goretzka before the break.
Schnitzler was the busier of the two goalkeepers in the first half. Georgia’s Vano Tsilosani forced an excellent reflex save from Schnitzler on 9 minutes. Germany’s backline was also very busy trying to contain Georgia’s dangerous striker pair of Nika Akhvlediani and Davit Jikia whose movement had to be tracked carefully by German center backs Sarr and Süle. Jakia was particularly hard to contain and on 25 minutes tested Schnitzler again, a diving save after a curling shot the only thing that kept Germany from conceding. Germany only conceded a single goal in qualifying but that record seemed in danger of being threatened at the rate the match was going.
The halftime whistle was a welcome relief for the Germans and they came out a different side in the second half. Böger brought on Stendera for the quiet Dittgen on the left which had a huge impact on the game. Stendera’s quick turns and cuts inside from the left made Germany very dangerous. Jakia again had a chance shortly after the break but that was as far as Georgia’s influence went in the second half. Germany were more assured and dominated possession, Goretzka showing why he is touted to be such a talent, calmly controlling the flow of the game and creating several chances. Benkarit, who had an impressive record going into the tournament (9 goals in 13 matches) could well have had a hattrick in the second half but squandered all the opportunities created for him, one of which was a clever lob that nearly caught the Georgian keeper Adamia out.
The breakthrough came on the hour mark after Meyer beat a Georgian defender on the right and released a shot that was deflected and beat Adamia at the near post. Germany had several other chances after that but were kept out by confident goalkeeping and their own poor finishing. Either way, it was the kind of controlled and patient dominance coach Böger wanted from his side and in the end the result was much deserved.
The slow start was worrying but there is much room for improvement at this level and the confidence and chemistry is clearly there. As a coach, Böger emphasizes a solid defensive foundation and the fact that Germany kept Georgia from scoring despite being outplayed in the first half is probably the biggest plus from this match. With Germany’s assortment of creative players the second half was not a big surprise with the finishing the only real concern. Next up for Germany is Iceland on May 7th.
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