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Heavyweights target telling early blow

Having surprisingly struggled to make a real impact at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in recent years, Spain and Germany are only too aware of the value of making a positive start when they meet in Group B.

Horst Hrubesch is in buoyant mood ahead of Germany's Group B opener
Horst Hrubesch is in buoyant mood ahead of Germany's Group B opener ©Sportsfile

Two of European football's powerhouses who have surprisingly struggled to make a recent impact at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, both Spain and Germany are only too aware of the importance of making a positive start when they meet in Group B.

Title challenge
Champions in 1986 and 1998, Spain have not qualified since 2000, while Germany have never won this competition and also missed out on the last finals in the Netherlands two years ago. Yet both coaches exuded an air of confidence at their respective pre-match press conferences at the Gamla Ullevi. "The team is very well prepared," said Germany's Horst Hrubesch. "When I see them in training and the atmosphere around the squad then I really believe they're in good shape. We are not here just to play a few games; we have always clearly said that we are going to challenge for the title."

Swiss example
Spain coach Juan Ramón López Caro stopped short of publicly setting out such ambitious targets, although he did admit "the players feel very confident. They have a lot of responsibility and come here looking to do well and hope to have a good tournament." When asked if Spain could challenge for the title he pointed to the narrow escape in the play-offs for these finals: "We only won against Switzerland in the last minute so I wouldn't say we're favourites. What we have to do is demonstrate we have good quality and perform at a high level. Germany are a physical team full of personality who like to attack and also defend very well. We have to play our own game."

Expect the unexpected
The omens are good for Hrubesch, who guided Germany to a 2-1 victory against Spain on Matchday 1 of last year's UEFA European Under-19 Championship and the side went on to lift the trophy for the first time. "I'm convinced we're going to have a good tournament," said Hrubesch, who will return to the U19 post next month. "This team is strong physically and mentally – we've worked on the second part a lot. We can play at a high technical level and this all contributes to the team spirit which is very important at a tournament like this. We can play at a very fast pace and we have some great individuals. That's one of our strengths as no team knows what to expect against Germany. But the main thing is that these players know what they want: to win the title."

'Small details'
Neither side have any injury concerns ahead of their meeting in Gothenburg, and with both looking for a positive start – Germany have won only two matches in a U21 final tournament, their opening games in both 2004 and 2006 – López Caro believes he has pinpointed where the match will be won and lost. "We know we're in a difficult group and we have to respect our rivals – we know matches like these will be decided by small details," he said. "As always, it will be important not to make mistakes in either defence or attack. I expect there to be lots of chances; the percentage that are turned into goals will be key."