U21 European Championships: Germany′s youngsters aim to repeat history | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 17.06.2015
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U21 European Championships: Germany's youngsters aim to repeat history

Securing a ticket to Rio 2016 is the minimum goal for Horst Hrubesch's side in the Czech Republic when they start their EURO U21 campaign on Wednesday. They'd love to repeat the dominance of the 2009 German team too.

The names immediately jump out: Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels and Sami Khedira. They're not just World Cup winners - they also formed the foundation of Germany's U21 European Championship success in 2009.

That Germany side demolished England 4-0 in the final, six years ago this month. But what's noteworthy is the impressive development and upward trajectory of the 2009 crop, which has since become the spine of the current national team that secured World Cup success in Brazil less than a year ago.

For some, the road in the national team is already coming to an end, opening the door for Germany's next generation of players who will compete at future World Cups. Germany's U21 coach Horst Hrubesch will wield one of the strongest squads in the Czech Republic, as the competition continues to be a useful transition for those who are preparing to become international players.

Marc-Andre ter Stegen

Germany's Under 21 goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen has just won the Champions League

Wealth of experience

More than 1200 Bundesliga appearances are shared among Germany's U21 squad - Kevin Volland has over 100 matches under his belt for Hoffenheim, for example, whilst Bernd Leno has played more than 130 times for Bayer Leverkusen. Leno's challenger for the number one jersey, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, will make the trip to Prague having just won the Champions League with Barcelona last week.

In the three-way tussle for the goalkeeping shirt - which Hrubesch has not decided upon and calls all keepers 'world-class' - is Cologne's Timo Horn who played 33 of 34 top-flight games last season. Very few of those competing this month can boast that kind of strength. The squad also includes Schalke's Max Meyer, Liverpool's Emre Can and Wolfsburg's German Cup winner Maxi Arnold.

National team head coach Joachim Löw will be monitoring the progress of the U21's and has been influential in encouraging younger players on the radar of the first-team to instead focus on the upcoming tournament. After the summer, Löw admitted the likes of Volland would be considered for the top side.

Germany's U21 team celbrates winning the U21 Euro in 2009

Neuer, Özil, Boateng and co: The German team of 2009 had some big names

"I'd rather they played in a competitive U21 tournament than sat on the bench for us for 90 minutes," said Löw back in March. "This should bring them along further. In 2009, we had a great experience with some of the guys and we were boosted by them in the 2014 World Cup."

Failure has been equally an important learning curve for Germany's youth players, following a disappointing campaign in 2013 when they won one match and didn't make it out of the group phase. In 2011, meanwhile, Germany didn't even qualify for the tournament.

Booking a ticket to Rio

There's another carrot dangling at the other end of the tournament: the bonus of qualification for the Olympic Games. Germany hasn't qualified for an Olympic football event since 1988 when, in South Korea, the team won the bronze medal.

With a different age criteria to be eligible for selection, the German squad included 24-year-old Jürgen Klinsmann, who hit four goals in the tournament, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Thomas Hässler, the latter pair winning the Champions League at Borussia Dortmund.

"The Olympics would be a dream," added Hrubesch whose side would need to reach at least the semifinal to secure a place at the Olympic Games. "But we have to take every game seriously first."

Germany's first opponent is Serbia on Wednesday, before facing Denmark on Saturday June 20. The host nation is the final hurdle for Hrubesch's men on June 23 and they could face the likes of England, Portugal or Italy in the last four.