Germany keen to put Iran nightmare behind
Think World Cup finals and Germany, and you would be hard-pressed to remember a lopsided scoreline against them in recent history.
The 1998 World Cup is an obvious one, when a 3-0 defeat at the hands of a Davor Suker-inspired Croatia in the quarterfinals prompted an introspection that laid the foundations of a strong youth development system 2000 onwards. It led to the formation of the Under-17 national league in 2007, a system that has delivered Toni Kroos, Mesut Ozil and Mats Hummels in recent years to the national team.
To have lost 4-0 to Iran on October 10 in Goa then, must have been a rude awakening for the German U-17 team at the World Cup in India. It was just the second such scoreline a German team has had to face at this level -- the last one came in a semi-final against Ronaldinho's Brazil in 1997.
"I think the German team is known in the whole world as one that will win every game. This was the point from the last game against Iran; many players were surprised about the strength of Iran," says head coach Christian Wuck, after the team spent the evening getting used to the lights, the turf, and perhaps most importantly the humidity of Kochi.
The fact that Wuck calls the Iran loss "black Monday" -- it was actually a Tuesday -- and one where "everything that could go wrong went wrong" emphasises how much of a trauma that defeat was for the team itself.
Captain Jann-Fiete Arp was their star striker through qualification, scoring hat-tricks against both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ireland, before netting the winner in a 2-1 win over Netherlands in the quarter-finals that sealed his team's qualification.
Arp's goal in the 2-1 win over Costa Rica in their tournament opener in India - his 15th goal in his 17th cap for Germany U-17 - might still prove the difference between Germany progressing to the knockouts and not, but he has come to India to fulfill his personal ambition.
"I want to win the World Cup and tomorrow is the next step for that," says Arp, who has already drawn comparisons with the best strikers in German history in his short stay at Hamburger SV. "That's not important for me right now."
Wuck is quick to remind that the German team has more about it than just Arp. "I think he's a very talented player, but he is only good if the team is also very good. He needs players behind him and beside him on both sides, to score goals. He's very talented, but we have many players who are very good."
Indeed on Thursday, the livewire in the pre-training warmups was RB Leipzig midfielder Elias Abouchabaka, cracking the odd joke with his teammates, all of whom had their game face on. Abouchabaka and his Leipzig team-mate Erik Majetschak are among the Bundesliga regulars that Wuck will be depending on to keep total control of the midfield against a Guinea team that has shown good attacking flair, but appears vulnerable at the back.
A couple of days before their league match against Iran, the Germans took time off from training to visit a children's ashram in Verna, Goa, where they got to interact and play with younger, more underprivileged children. It was an eye-opener for most of the players, according to the support staff.
Wolfsburg midfielder John Yeboah earned the nickname 'Neymar' from the children he played with and against, as the team provided the ashram with a donation worth more than €2000. The defeat to Iran, though, has brought the focus sharply back on the job at hand.
"It's a final for both teams. They have to win, and we also want to win. It will be a very tough game, and I hope we will be better," says Wuck, while also reaffirming the central idea behind this World Cup, where Germany are hoping to unearth some long-term national team players.
"We want to make the best out of the players. We want to shape the players, and such a great tournament is very important for their development. Many players can grow here in India, and I hope they will make the next step in the next game against Guinea."