On Sunday afternoon, the Germany camp in Christchurch was filled with exhausted and disappointed players contemplating a long journey home.
After an intense 120 minutes against Mali in the FIFA U-20 World Cup 2015 quarter-finals, it was the Africans who emerged victorious from an enthralling penalty shootout. Although the defeat meant that Frank Wormuth’s team missed out on their minimum target of reaching the last four, their coach was quick to stress that his players could return to Europe with their heads held high.
The European champions’ title bid first looked under threat just ten minutes into the encounter as midfield engine Marc Stendera – one of the most impressive individuals at the tournament so far with four goals and three assists to his name – had to be substituted after suffering a bruise to the head. “It’s always tough when your playmaker has to go off,” Wormuth said after the match in an interview with FIFA.com in Christchurch Stadium. “It ultimately costs you a couple of vital per cent in performance and the flashes of creativity he offers, but the team compensated well for the setback and didn’t let it frighten them. Despite the situation, they played a very tactically shrewd game – and for that I congratulate them.”
As time wore on, Mali became ever stronger and what began as a high-quality tactical duel increasingly became a frenetic end-to-end affair. “It’s a shame; we might have had one or two more opportunities with Stendera on the pitch and perhaps could have gone on to win, but we also had the chance to make it 2-0 with our penalty. There’s no doubt that we were on the right track, and we led 1-0 in the shootout too, but in the end one missed spot-kick made the difference,” the 54-year-old explained without a hint of bitterness.
Germany leave the tournament having made a startlingly strong impression, both in the group stage and in their Round of 16 match against Nigeria, prompting many to consider captain Kevin Akpoguma’s side favourites to lift the trophy. The Europeans scored 18 goals in five matches, including 16 in the group stage – a new record in this competition.
The experiences that the lads in this team have had here in New Zealand will stay with them for the rest of their careers.
They looked stable in both defence and attack throughout, working impressively well as a unit and captivating crowds with the same flexibility that set apart Germany’s senior side at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ in Brazil. “Being here in New Zealand has been phenomenal,” said Wormuth with a beaming smile that suggested he meant every word he said, despite his side falling short in the quest to challenge for the title.
Although even the talent of Bayer Leverkusen winger Julian Brandt and Nuremberg’s defensive stalwart Niklas Stark, two of their country’s most remarkable young players along with Eintracht Frankfurt’s Stendera, was not enough to swing the crucial penalty shoot-out in Germany’s favour, their coach knows that his squad have plenty of positives to take home with them.
“The close-fought matches and tension of World Cup finals where every game could be your last have given our players some incredibly valuable experience,” explained the man who has also been head of coaching training at the German Football Association’s Hennes Weisweiler Academy since 2008. “Not everyone in this age group has learned the best way to prepare for a match, but when you get a chance to practise it and treat big games with respect, then you learn that there’s nothing to be afraid of.”
Wormuth continued: “The players that were here now will have total confidence in any vital matches they play for their clubs in the future and will go onto the pitch with plenty of awareness, unafraid of big names, big stadiums or crucial games. That’s a hugely important factor. When you’re scared, you make mistakes,” he said, before concluding: “The experiences that the lads in this team have had here in New Zealand will stay with them for the rest of their careers.”