Despite being the best European team at the 2002 FIFA World Cup, Germany went into UEFA EURO 2004™ as rank outsiders, written off at home and abroad. But a draw that could have been a win against the Netherlands, and the arrival of exciting teenager Bastian Schweinsteiger, have marked out Rudi Völler's side as a typically Teutonic tournament team.
Schweinsteiger's display as a second-half substitute, plus the emergence of defender Philipp Lahm and striker Lukas Podolski, is a real boon for Völler - and evidence that the German talent well has not quite dried up. In the aftermath of Tuesday's 1-1 Group D draw, Völler said: "I was delighted with the performance of my younger players and I'm sure they will continue to prove their worth. They are not only gifted but also carefree and fresh. That's good for the team."
Völler also had specific praise for Schweinsteiger, who is likely to feature against Latvia in Porto on Saturday. "Bastian can play in various positions in midfield and he keeps to the tactics," he said. "
He doesn't show that he is feeling the pressure and tension and he gave a cheeky performance."
It is quite a transition for the FC Bayern München midfield player, who was branded a rebel for his off-the-field activities when he first emerged at Bayern and who received a late call-up to the EURO 2004™ squad along with fellow Under-21 international Podolski.
Hopes and expectations
Now, the 19-year-old comes across as a self-effacing young professional. "To be honest, I don't expect anything and I don't think I have the right to because I am still very young," he said. "Obviously every player wants to get on the field and play for as long as possible and hopefully I will get another chance."
Schweinsteiger's introduction after 68 minutes against the Netherlands left him refreshingly awestruck. "It was a fantastic feeling and I can't find the words to describe the moment. I was just looking forward to going out there and playing in front of the fantastic crowd that had gathered in the stadium.
"I just tried to go out there and play my game," he continued. "I am used to being involved in big matches because I play for Bayern. I know that I made a few mistakes out there, but basically I was looking forward to the challenge and had actually hoped to score a goal. Sadly that didn't work out even though I came close."
Indeed, within seconds of his arrival, Schweinsteiger almost extended Germany's lead but his fine shot was deflected away from goal by Dutch defender Giovanni van Bronckhorst. That was a sign of the player's composure. "I don't really think about the pressure. All I try to do is go out there and do my best for the team. Sometimes it works better than other times."
Action not thoughts
Schweinsteiger's former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld admires that approach. "He's an instinctive footballer," he said. "He doesn't spend too much time thinking. He just goes for it."
Enjoying the experience
And now Völler has joined his growing band of admirers, even if Schweinsteiger is likely to continue to be used as an impact player for the foreseeable future. He added: "It is nice to know that the boss is happy, but in the end I am here for the experience."
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