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A Germany team boasting some of today's biggest Bundesliga stars helped Germany to their first European Under-21 Championship title in 2009. - © © gettyimages
A Germany team boasting some of today's biggest Bundesliga stars helped Germany to their first European Under-21 Championship title in 2009. - © © gettyimages

Germany's Under-21s: The triumphant class of 2009


Germany got the better of Spain to win the UEFA Under-21 Championship for the second time on Friday.

In doing so, they emulated the prodigious class of 2009 - a team packed with future FIFA World Cup winners.

bundesliga.com recounts the watershed tale of eight years ago...

Nine years after Germany’s group-stage exit from Euro 2000, the DFB’s decision to invest in an ambitious youth development programme was starting to pay off. Germany, a country that had won nothing at youth level since 1992, would in 2009 become the first nation to hold all three major continental titles.

A year previously a German team managed by Horst Hrubesch and featuring the Bender twins - Lars and Sven - had won the European Under-19 title. In May 2009, a side built around Borussia Dortmund attacker Mario Götze captured the Under-17 crown.

Watch: Mario Götze's opening-weekend stunner

At the start of 2009, Hrubesch was installed as interim manager of the Under-21s. Unlike this year, there was no Confederations Cup to drain the resources available to the coach as he prepared for the European Championship in Sweden. Germany had topped their qualifying group, although a defeat in Moldova suggested that they were not the finished article.

"We want to compete for the title in Sweden," Hrubesch said prior to the tournament. "It is not an easy draw but we want to make it through the first round."

Looking at the players available, it is easy to see why the former West Germany international was relatively confident. Wearing the number one jersey was 23-year-old Manuel Neuer, who had just completed his third season as Schalke’s first-choice goalkeeper and had already gained plenty of UEFA Champions League experience.  

A 20-year-old Jerome Boateng had played in the Bundesliga for Hamburg for two seasons and Mesut Özil had scored the winning goal in the DFB Cup final for Werder Bremen two weeks before the European Championship kicked off. The team was captained by Sami Khedira, who had won the Bundesliga with Stuttgart only two years previously.

Neuer would make his senior debut for Germany days before linking up with the Under-21s, while Özil, Gonzalo Castro, Andreas Beck and Marko Marin had already been capped by Joachim Löw.

Watch: Manuel Neuer is the world's undisputed No.1

In Sweden, though, a star-studded side took a while to get going and drew 0-0 with Spain in their first game. Afterwards, Hrubesch said his team had shown their opponents too much respect, but tipped Özil to make up for missing a chance to win the match.

"Özil is hard to describe as a player," he said.  "He has near-perfect skills, can play at pace and play on the left or right

"The only thing missing today was a goal, but I’m convinced he’ll have a good tournament. He’s an important player for the team and he’s one of the most perfect players I’ve ever had."

Goals from Benedikt Höwedes and future Iran international Ashkan Dejagah saw Germany past Finland before Boateng set up Castro to score the opener in their final group game against England. Stuart Pearce’s side levelled to go through as group winners, however, leaving Hrubesch fuming.

"The only thing I’m happy about is reaching the semi-finals. I can’t live with the way we did it," he said.

The coach demanded an improvement, and his players delivered in the last-four clash with an Italian side that included Mario Balotelli. Germany were indebted to Neuer in the first half, but controlled things once Beck – a future Hoffenheim captain - got the only goal shortly after half-time.

That result set up a rematch with England in the final, a game in which Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels was deployed as a holding midfielder to cut off the supply to Theo Walcott. Once again it was Castro who struck first, clipping home on 23 minutes after a defence-splitting pass from Özil.

Click here to read how this year's squad made the Under-21 final

The provider then became goalscorer three minutes into the second half as Özil’s long-range free-kick was fumbled by England net-minder Scott Loach. The English were missing the suspended Joe Hart, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Frazier Campbell and as a result they suffered at both ends of the pitch. In the final 11 minutes Sandro Wagner netted twice – with his left foot and from the edge of the area with his right – to complete a 4-0 success.

Watch: Sandro Wagner was a key cog in the Hoffenheim machine in 2016/17

Özil, as predicted by Hrubesch, had been superb and the way Germany hit ruthlessly on the counter was a sign of things to come in later years.

"My team hit form at just the right time and did it in style," Hrubesch said afterwards.  

His players did not stop there. Beck, who now plays for Besiktas, said that the tournament was a "huge stepping stone" for the squad, although some had already been well on the road to success.  

"It was clear that not only stars but also superstars would emerge from this team," Beck told Sportbuzzer this week.  

"It was apparent that Manuel Neuer, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil were on this path – they were outstanding in every age group.

"I think Mats Hummels developed hugely since 2009 and the tournament also gave Jerome Boateng a boost. Both are now world-class players."

It is testament to the Bundesliga, the DFB's underage system and of course the talent within the squad that every one of the starting eleven from the final went on to play at senior level for Germany or – in Fabian Johnson’s case – for the United States.

Watch: Fabian Johnson's Goal of the Season contender

Neuer, Höwedes, Boateng, Özil and Hummels all started the 2014 World Cup final too and Khedira would have done had he not pulled up injured in the warm-up. Perhaps it is fitting that Wagner finally got his chance for Löw’s senior side in the same month that a new generation has reached the Under-21 decider.

"You only have to look back at 2009 to see what winning the title represented for these players," Hrubesch told the DPA this week.  

"One thing is clear. When you become European champions in your age group, then you have achieved something that very few people manage in their career."

Now that Germany's 2017 champions have joined the select few, anything is possible. The world-beating achievements of the class of 2009 attest to that.

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