Germany captain Benjamin Henrichs extolled the virtues of UEFA youth competitions after a bittersweet start to the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
Germany's second-half performance against Switzerland on Friday can act as a benchmark in Malta, though the result – a 1-1 draw in Gozo – was slightly difficult to digest. "It felt like a defeat because we were so superior in the second half, and then with the missed penalty near the end, that made it twice as bitter," said the Bayer 04 Leverkusen midfielder, who captained Germany through a flawless qualifying campaign.
After Germany started their opening fixture brightly, a lull allowed the Swiss back into the game. Christian Wück's team conceded only one chance in a fulminous second half, but that was still enough to deny them a perfect start. "We were definitely disappointed afterwards," Henrichs told UEFA.com. "It took us a long time to think of the positives. We were disappointed, but if you play well and don't get the result you want, that doesn't really get you anywhere."
Henrichs' career is certainly taking him places, on the other hand. He joined Leverkusen's youth setup at the age of seven, and a decade into his formation he has already seen close up what professional football is all about, thanks to the UEFA Youth League. "It's a lot of fun, but it's also very demanding because you're travelling nearly every week with football," said Germany's No8, who appeared five times in last season's inaugural competition.
"It's really enjoyable and it's fantastic to be able to measure yourself against the best in Europe, but it makes it hard for school. I want to play in the Youth League again next season." He may get the chance to do so after Leverkusen clinched fourth place in the Bundesliga to earn a place in August's UEFA Champions League play-offs.
"I think Leverkusen's youth setup is really good," said the midfielder. "Plenty of players have made the breakthrough into professional football and there are many former Leverkusen youth players in the second and third divisions too." That is a path Henrichs is treading and success in Malta would be an ideal accompaniment to his development with Germany, who are, as always, aiming for the very top.
"We know the expectations are high," added Henrichs, "but we aren't putting ourselves under any unnecessary pressure. We're just playing our football and, of course, we want to give it our best. There's a great atmosphere in the camp and we all get on really well. After the result we got, we're now all desperate for a positive outcome against Scotland so we can go through."
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