Having failed to win in their last two friendly games, Germany's Under-21s are looking on edge; Matthias Rötters asks the big questions about their finals prospects.
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A 2-2 draw at home against Italy and a 3-2 away loss against England have highlighted some issues for Horst Hrubesch's Germany as they build up to the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic this summer. Here are the questions they need to address.
Who will play in goal at the finals?
Hrubesch has a luxury problem, with four exceptional goalkeepers to choose from: FC Barcelona's Marc-André ter Stegen, Bayer 04 Leverkusen's Bernd Leno, 1. FC Köln's Timo Horn and 1. FSV Mainz 05's Loris Karius. The latter pair are impressing in the Bundesliga, but the general consensus is that Ter Stegen will be No1 for the finals, with fellow UEFA Champions League veteran Leno on standby.
Can Germany field their strongest side in the Czech Republic?
Hrubesch's squad includes plenty of players with senior-level credentials: Ter Stegen, Max Meyer, Kevin Volland, Christian Günter and Matthias Ginter. However, Joachim Löw has made it clear that no players will be off limits for Hrubesch for the finals. "I'd rather see our young players at at top-class final tournament than have them on the bench for the senior team," Löw said. FIFA World Cup winner Ginter, for one, is eager to be involved. "Sometimes a step back can be a big help in taking the next steps forward," the Borussia Dortmund defender explained.
Who will Germany's big stars be?
Hrubesch has a pool of around 40 top players, and while goalkeeper Ter Stegen, captain Volland and Liverpool FC's Emre Can are probably the first names on the teamsheet, Hrubesch is eager to ensure that a team ethic is maintained. "We have a lot of good players who can make the difference in a tournament," the 63-year-old said. "What's important for me is that this team has a good spirit and wants to win every match. Even though we couldn't beat Italy and England in our latest tests, I am very satisfied with what's going on in this team. I expect us to have a really good tournament."
Is this team as strong as the side that won the 2009 title?
Hrubesch's team that beat England 4-0 in Sweden to take the trophy in 2009 featured Manuel Neuer, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil. The coach rates the current crop just as highly. "This team is no worse than the 2009 team," he said. "My new players can play fantastic football too. All they lack is players with the will to lead, like Neuer, Khedira or Hummels had in 2009. I expect some of my players to become leaders at the finals." Moritz Leitner, Johannes Geis and Ginter seem the most likely candidates to take up that challenge.
What problems might Germany face?
With the final four in the Czech Republic receiving the huge bonus of a place at the Olympic games, there will be pressure from the off at the finals, with Germany's group stage rivals Serbia, Denmark and Czech Republic sure to bring their strongest possible squads. "I expect them all to field several very experienced players who have already played a lot of first-team internationals," said Volland. That might be a problem given that, while blessed with great skill, many of Germany's players have not featured quite so much at the very highest levels. The results against Italy and England were a worry in that respect; a similar run at the finals, with so much at stake, would be a major problem.