Captain Leon Goretzka’s first half goal was enough to see off a stubborn Poland side in the semifinals of the U-17 European Championship. With the win, Germany reach their third final in four years at this stage and will play the Netherlands on May 16th.
Lineups and Formations
The game pitted two very strong defensive sides against one another so goals were likely going to be few and far between. Germany have yet to give up a goal while Poland have conceded just one in the tournament so far. Having already qualified, Germany coach Stefan Böger had the luxury of resting a few key players in their last group stage match against France, one they still won quite convincingly (3-0). The players that were rested, Goretzka, Süle, Stendera and Benkarit, all started again.
Poland coach Marcin Dorna banked on his team’s strong organization and great team spirit to carry them to their first final since 1993. Curiously enough, two of Poland’s players, Captain Horoszkiewicz and Rabiega play for Hertha Berlin’s youth team and both started against Germany. Similar to Goretzka for Germany, Poland’s playmaker Karol Linetty was one player Germany had to keep an eye on. Both teams lined up with a 4-2-3-1.
Böger noted the potential difficulties ahead of this match and warned his team that it was not going to be anything like the France game. Whereas France’s attacking orientation allowed Germany to play a more open game and create more chances, Poland’s physically strong and organized team were going to present similar hurdles as Georgia did in their opening match. And right he was, Poland had the first chance of the match in the 6th minute after Rabiega had a shot on goal from distance.
Germany found it difficult to move the ball up at their preferred high tempo and especially to break down Poland in front of goal. They were thus limited in their options and Goretzka had a go from distance himself soon after, hitting the ball just over the ball. As was the case with Georgia, against an opponent like this Germany usually takes longer to get going but they started settling more as the match progressed and began carving out chances for themselves. Benkarit (28th minute) and Süle (31st minute) both came close. The breakthrough came in the 34th minute after Goretzka flicked a Stendera corner with his head past goalkeeper Pogorzelec.
At this level so much is about the psychology of football and that being the case, the goal gave Germany the necessary confidence to improve their game. Meyer, Stendera and Goretzka started combining better and pressing higher up the pitch. The effect left Stepinski isolated up top with no support from his Polish teammates. Germany carried that momentum into the second half where a still stubborn Poland refused to yield another goal. Böger brought on Werner for Benkarit in the 50th minute in a move that would open up play even more for Germany. Benkarit has struggled to find his groove this tournament and his touch let him down again earlier in the match after missing two clear cut chances. Incidentally, Werner is a quicker smaller player who moves well between the channels. That movement paid several dividends as it gave Germany’s midfield a greater variety of options and began to tire out a visibly fatiguing Polish team.
Nevertheless, Poland’s fighting spirit is what got them this far and they kept pushing forward. Coach Dorna bringing on two attacking players and eventually forced Süle to made an important intervention on a Polish counter attack. Germany’s substitute meanwhile, continued to create problems for Poland’s backline and had a great chance in the 75th minute, forcing a good save from Pogorzelec. Soon after Goretzka had another go a minute later. Poland’s biggest chance and Germany’s biggest scare came in the 77th minute after Linetty’s free kick beat Schnitzler but went off the crossbar.
At the other end Pogorzelec, coached by famed goalkeeper coach Krzysztof Dowhan at the Legia Warsaw academy, showed why he is one of Poland’s most promising talents, making three vital saves in the final minutes to keep Germany from getting a second. Poland’s frustrations then got the best of them as Lasicki was sent off for a studs up challenge. The tank was finally drained and Germany got their most hard earned win of the tournament.
With a place in the final booked, Böger has several things to consider. First, Germany have not encountered an opponent as offensively potent as the Netherlands so far so Böger might want to reconsider his tactics. Second, he has to decide whether to continue trusting in Benkarit or use the more energetic impactful Werner up top. These sides played each other in two of the last three finals (each team winning once) so it is promising to be a memorable match.
Thanks to Eurosport Poland for helping with coverage of this match.
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