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FIFA U-17 World Cup 2017: Germany's teens must solve puzzle to win only trophy missing in cabinet

If there is one quote that sums up the German football team it is England legend Gary Lineker's timeless quip: "Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win."

For years now, the European team have blown away opponents on the pitch with their exciting and edge-of-the-seat attacking brand of football, which has not just earned them legions of admirers but also a glut of trophies. Besides the four FIFA World Cup titles and the three European Championships, Germany have also won six UEFA Youth Championships and an U-20 World Cup.

However, disproving Lineker's quote are the U-17 team, who despite being three-time champions at the age group, have never won the U-17 World Cup. Their best finish was a third-place finish at the 2007 edition. A country known for producing technically proficient wonderkids — spurred by the conveyor belt that is the Bundesliga — with unerring frequency never having won a coveted title at the U-17 age group must surely rankle.

Germany U-17

Germany's Alexander Nitzl celebrates with teammate Jann-Fiete Arp following their side's victory over Netherlands during their UEFA European Under-17 Championship quarter-final match. Image courtesy: UEFA

The lack of silverware at the age group is even more glaring given that Germany's national team is flush with players like Marco Reus, Mario Götze, Philipp Lahm, Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lars Ricken, Mesut Ozil who have risen up from the junior ranks.

However, if their performance at the recent U-17 European Championship is anything to go by, this year the European outfit can finally do justice to their potential. Despite losing cruelly to Spain in the semi-final in a shootout, the young Germans pumped in 17 goals — a tournament record.

Given the signs his team have shown at the European competition, U17 Germany coach Christian Wuck is confident his team have everything to break the World Cup hoodoo. “We have a very good offensive team. We have set a new goal-scoring record at the European championship. So we know that our team is strong and powerful. You never know, we can maybe get to the final and win it,” Wuck, who was in Mumbai for the World Cup draw, said on Friday after his team drew Iran, Guinea and Costa Rica in Group C.

“It’s an interesting group. They are new teams that we don’t know much about, but from now, we will analyse their past games. I think it will be a great tournament for the players and the staff, so we are very lucky to be in India,” said Wuck. “It’s very hot and very humid here and the players have to adapt, but I think it’s a beautiful country, so I’m very happy to be here. We are going to Goa and to Kochi and see how it will be.

“I hope I get all the players from the team in October. I want my best players to show what they are capable of here in India and if so, we can go to the final, maybe. But we know other teams like Brazil, Spain and Mali are strong also,” he added.

En route sealing their qualification for the mega-event, to be held in India from 6 October, Germany won three successive matches of the U-17 European Championships comfortably, thanks to their rampaging form in front of the goal, and qualified for the quarter-finals. Continuing their excellent attacking show, the young guns edged past Netherlands 2-1 to clinch the semi-final spot which guaranteed their berth at the U-17 World Cup.

Unfortunately, Wuck's boys struggled to get past eventual champions Spain. Nevertheless, the highlight of the tournament was Germany's Jann-Fiete Arp, who was the joint second-highest goalscorer at the Euros with seven goals.

“This is the most aggressive year I've ever seen in my career in the junior field. The team has also demonstrated this at the European Championship. We have set a goal record; and nevertheless, we conceded the fewest goals in the tournament alongside England. We owe this to our 'keeper Luca Plogmann and to our offensive football as this 2000-born side has a lot of speed and an eye for a goal,” Wuck was quoted by saying Kicker after Germany’s exit from the European Championship.

He wasn’t wrong though. Over the years, Germany have produced a truckload of technically-gifted players who possess the ability to tear down even the best of wall-like defences. Wuck, who played 13 games for the German U-21 side and made more than 100 Bundesliga appearances for Nuremberg, Karlsruher SC and VfL Wolfsburg, believes that all the hardwork by the German Football Association (DFB) to promote youthful football will bear fruit for the U-17 side too.

Jann Arp

Jann-Fiete Arp poses after Germany's 2-1 win over Netherlands in the quarter-finals of 2017 U-17 European Championship. Image courtesy: UEFA

Toni Kroos was the star of the 2007 edition, winning the Golden Ball in the U-17 World Cup and the best player award in 2006 U-17 European Championship. His incisive passing and seven goals for third-placed Germany in South Korea left fans in awe of the Bayern Munich graduate's wizardry. This time around, high-flying Hamburg forward Arp has captured imaginations by scoring seven out of the 17 goals Germany scored in the 2017 U-17 Euros.

“Arp is a very good player, not only for us but also for Hamburg in the U17 Bundesliga. He's a leading player on and off the pitch. He's very skillful and a great header of the ball. He knows what spaces to take up — he's very intelligent. There he stands out. I believe he can handle the hype around him well,” Wuck told Kicker after the tournament concluded earlier in June.

Wuck has admitted that his philosophy gives preference to putting the ball in the back of the net rather than just playing attacking football. There will be a lot of pressure but he wants his team to fight in unforeseen situations when the tournament begins in India.

After a humiliating Euro 2000 ouster, where Erich Ribbeck-led Germany only managed to register a point and a single goal, German football learnt from its mistakes. For many, it was a blessing in disguise as their shambolic show forced the German Football League (DFL), the DFB and the clubs into action.

Since then, German football has encountered an upheaval. Bundesliga clubs have invested in youth academies where homegrown players are nurtured. The vibrant brand of football that symbolises German football today is the outcome of the strategic and sensible spending that is ploughed into youth development.

From the ashes of disappointing 2000, the Die Mannschaft have risen to become world-beaters in every sense and now the pressure rests on the teenagers, who have an uphill task to match up to their seniors. The question is whether the colts will clinch the missing piece in German football's jigsaw.

Come October, when India hosts its maiden FIFA event, 22 players will chase the ball. What remains to be seen is if the Germans prove Linekar right by winning.

Updated Date: Sep 28, 2017 15:32 PM

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