Germany are set to take on Spain in the final of the U21 European football championship in Poland. On paper, the Spanish go into the match as the clear favorites, but they are not about to take the Germans lightly.
The Germans go into Friday's contest in Krakow battle-hardened after needing penalties to overcome England in their semifinal earlier in the week, while Spain have sailed through the tournament so far, having outscored their opponents 12-2 - including their 3-1 semifinal victory over a 10-man Italy.
As is the case in the Confederations Cup, Germany have not sent their very best team to Poland, with a number of players who would normally be in the side having been "poached" by Joachim Löw, who has given some of his key veterans a summer off with a view to the World Cup next year. However, the fact that both teams have reached their respective finals is an indication of just how deep the talent of this German generation runs. However, it is also down to the coaching of both Löw and Stefan Kuntz, who is leading his team into his first major tournament as bench boss of the under-21 side.
"We are motivated and we will give it everything we've got," Kuntz said on Thursday following his team's final training session. He added that his team was "totally focused, because we aren't done yet. As a coach, that gives you a good feeling."
'Almost a clasico'
His Spanish counterpart, Albert Celades, indicated that despite his team's dominant record in the tournament, they weren't about to take the Germans lightly.
"Germany are a world power in the game, we have met many times in youth and senior levels too," Celades said. "It's a great rivalry, you could almost call it a 'clasico'," he said, referring to the biggest games of the Spanish domestic season, which pit Real Madrid against Barcelona.
While the Spanish have dominated their opponents, winning all four of their matches on their way to the final, Germany lost to Italy in the group stage, before their draw with England in the semifinal, which they won 4-3 in penalties thanks to two saves in the shootout by goalkeeper Julian Pollersbeck. Coach Stefan Kuntz will hope that this mental toughness will work in Germany's favor.
"We said from the start we wanted to measure ourselves against the best. We've faced Italy, England and now Spain. It's a great challenge," he said."We'll play as we did in the other games, stick to our philosophy, but also adapt to our opponents."
Saul Niguez scored Spain's first goal against FYR Macedonia - before adding four over the course of the tournament
One thing Germany know they will have to adapt to is the most potent offense of the tournament, including Saul Niguez, who has found the back of the net five times, in addition to the three goals scored by Marco Asensio.
Germany also have a couple of injury concerns. Striker Davie Selke, who has scored two goals so far, is a doubt. Having been subbed off after taking a knock in the England match, the future Hertha Berlin player left the final training session after just a few minutes on the pitch on Thursday. Also doubtful is backline boss Niklas Stark, who has been struggling with a neck injury sustained in a collision with an opponent during Germany's 2-0 win in the group stage.
This will be Germany's third U21 European final and they will be going for their second title after last winning in 2009. Spain, on the other hand, won back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2013.
pfd/jh (AP, dpa, AP)