The day after Germany's elimination from the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, the reality was sinking in that a good qualifying campaign does not necessarily lead to a successful final tournament.
In the case of captain Lewis Holtby, he was struggling to absorb the cold fact that Germany will be heading home after playing Russia on Wednesday. "It's very difficult to accept that we are out of the tournament," said Holtby, who pointed ruefully to the decisive late goals conceded in both their Group B matches – in the final minute against the Netherlands and four minutes from time against Spain. "We could just as well be sitting here with two points under our belt," he noted.
Even the 22-year-old did not disagree that Germany had been outplayed by Spain, just as they were inferior to the Jong Oranje during the first half of their opening fixture. Despite the narrow margin of defeat, it is fair to say Germany struggled to cope with the quality of Spain in Netanya, though Holtby insisted that their defence should not be blamed.
Indeed he had praise for the two centre-backs, who "did a superb job" despite their lack of experience. Matthias Ginter and Stefan Thesker were thrown in at the deep end in this event, because of injuries to others, and Holtby was impressed by how they dealt with the pressure.
Thesker himself said: "I joined this team quite late during the qualifying campaign and didn't have a lot of experience at this level. That's why I was able to take two or three steps in the right direction at this tournament. I will put this down as a good experience, even if it wasn't a success."
Holtby echoed that optimistic outlook when he added: "It was still a great experience for everyone. I am convinced that a lot of players in this Under-21 team will become world-class footballers in the future."
The Tottenham Hotspur FC midfielder has been the face of the Germany side during the past two years and had made no secret of his ambition "to lift the trophy" before the tournament began. Instead he will be packing his bags on Thursday and flying home, having played his last U21 game.
"We grew together as a team, so there is quite a bit of sadness that we have our final match in just two days," he said. "I am not thinking about any other things like holidays or the next pre-season with Tottenham." Rather there is just a wish to restore some pride against Russia and thank the Israeli hosts for their "outstanding hospitality and fantastic support" by signing off with a strong display. "Against Russia it's time to prove we deserve to be in this tournament."
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