Germany's exciting run to a Euro
2012 semi-final against Italy may not be unusual for a team that
has won three World Cups and as many European crowns and has
reached this stage for the fourth major tournament in a row.
There is one major difference, however, that makes this team
stand apart from their predecessors.
The vast majority of the players in Joachim Low's 23-man
squad are products of a youth system launched on the back of
disappointing tournament results in 1998 and 2000.
Five players in the current starting lineup alone were part
of the 2009 Under-21 European championship-winning team -
Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira and Mats
That team's triumph completed a rare set of titles as
Germany were also European champions in the Under-19 and
Under-17 age groups, won a year earlier.
Several more in this squad, including Thomas Mueller, Marcel
Schmelzer, Holger Badstuber, Toni Kroos, Benedikt Howedes, Lars
Bender and Mario Gotze, have clinched a spot thanks to the work
Germany have done in promoting youth.
The first results for the senior team were visible at the
2010 World Cup when despite a string of injuries to top players
like Michael Ballack before the tournament, Germany cruised to a
surprise third place in South Africa after stunning victories
over England and Argentina in the knockout stages.
"We are now more mature, more consistent and we have shown
we can beat the big teams," said midfielder Ozil on Monday. "We
are young and we are hungry."
Team manager Oliver Bierhoff said some days ago that a
player could no longer have a top career in Germany if they had
not been through the youth ranks.
"I do not think that this is possible any more," Bierhoff
said when asked whether a career like that of 34-year-old
forward Miroslav Klose, who never played for youth teams, was
still an option.
"What you are missing as far as quality training at youth
level nowadays is too big to make up," he added.
From July 2002, youth academies became a requirement for
German clubs wishing to obtain a licence for either of the top
Since then more than half a billion euros have been poured
into a system that has armed every first and second division
club with a string of homegrown talent and in turn boosted
spectator numbers to an average of over 42,000 fans per
Bundesliga game this season - a world best.
The youth academies must follow strict guidelines including
having a specified number of floodlit pitches, teams with a set
number of players, qualified coaches and scouts. They must also
have a clearly defined philosophy and are rated annually.
Since 2002 the academies have fed clubs with hundreds of
players and in 2011 the number of youth products had exceeded 20
percent of all club players.
The programme has also been an overwhelming success for the
national teams with every Germany Under-21 player last season
emanating from the academies.
It comes as no surprise that Low has recognised a
development in his senior team since the 2010 World Cup.
The core of his players have, after all, been playing
together for more than a decade for either club or country or
"There is a certain maturing process that has happened so
far," said Loew, after his team, the youngest in the tournament
with an average of just over 24, set a new German record by
winning all three Euro group matches.
"The team has gone through a good development process."
They will now face their toughest test to date when they
seek to score their first ever tournament victory over opponents
Italy in Warsaw on Thursday and set yet another record straight.
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