German kids suggest a bright future
If you enjoyed Germany's World Cup-winning football this summer, the next 10 years promise to be a lot of fun. If you didn't, you may wish to consider another pursuit, because Germany are here to stay.
Monday's thoroughly one-sided 4-0 drubbing of Austria saw them storm through to the final of the UEFA European Under-19 Championship in Hungary, a competition they have seemed destined to win since Davie Selke scored in the first minute of their first group game against Bulgaria.
Given the clarity of joined-up thinking in German football, it's hardly a surprise that there are so many similarities between Marcus Sorg's coruscating junior side and Joachim Low's World Cup-winning seniors. Sorg lists discipline, organisation and exceptional quality as his team's prime assets, but there's more to it than that.
The same confidence that characterised Low's side is evident even in a group of men who are yet to require a daily shave. The intelligence of movement, the measured use of individualism, the comfort in possession, even their tendency to get a little overconfident and commit too many men forward when they're in top gear: it's all replicated here. The only obvious difference is the reticence of goalkeeper Oliver Schnitzler to dominate his box and the hinterlands beyond like Manuel Neuer.
This is no fluke either. Sorg has under his control the core of the side that so nearly won the 2012 European Under-17 Championship. That team was beaten on penalties in the final by the Netherlands, a result that flew quite forcefully in the face of national footballing stereotypes.
Two years later in qualifying, that same group of players beat Spain, six-time European champions at this level since 2002, to secure their place in Hungary. Next summer, it's the U21 European championship in the Czech Republic. Germany have already steamed through their qualifying group, unbeaten, for that one. But, of course.
Striker Selke will steal the headlines, which is hardly surprising given his six-goal haul, but the real star of this team is Marc Stendera. Small, technically excellent and blessed with the cunning of a tabloid journalist, the Eintracht Frankfurt man is the orchestrator of the team. Like all the best players, he has the ability to find space in a midfield as congested as an inner-city ring road, simply by taking a touch and dropping a shoulder.
Against Austria, Stendera's 20th-minute cross allowed Selke to open the scoring. His thunderbolt shot doubled the advantage 10 minutes later, a delightful reverse pass allowed Levin Oztunali to make it three just before the hour and, by the time Hany Mukhtar had scored a fourth, he was taking a well-earned rest on the bench. He looks a fine player.
Selke is rather less dainty, but just as effective. Built like a Stone Age watchtower, he boasts deceptive pace and an innate reading of the game that makes up for some of his technical shortcomings. He can look a little cumbersome, as if the time it takes for signals to fizz from brain to feet is extended by the scale of the journey, but you underestimate him at your peril. Selke appears entirely unaffected when he misses the target. He just redoubles his efforts and pushes on, relentlessly hunting down another chance.
There are others too. Centre-back Marc-Oliver Kempf has an eye for an ambitious forward pass, if not quite the ability to find it consistently, which may come with time. In midfield, Oztunali matches strength with sophistication, while both wide men, Mukhtar and Julian Brandt, are swift and clever.
To make matters worse, this isn't even the strongest team of its age available. Sorg would have loved to have called on the services of Max Meyer, star of the 2012 under-17 side, but Schalke didn't want to release him. That was hardly surprising, given that the 18-year-old made 41 appearances for their first team last season and was actually named in Low's 30-man provisional squad for Brazil. Incredibly, this might have been even worse for Austria.
Serbia's penalty shootout defeat in the other semifinal snuffed out the only good argument against Germany's success. Sorg's side had required a last-gasp Niklas Stark goal to rescue a point against the Eastern Europeans in the group stage, so that could have been an anxious evening.
Instead, on Thursday in Budapest, they face Portugal, the nation that Low's side crushed in their first World Cup match. They will fear nothing, nor should they. Germany's global dominance may only just have begun.