Bayern Munich-bound Serge Gnabry found the net in Germany's opening UEFA U-21 EURO fixture against the Czech Republic. - © © imago / Contrast
Bayern Munich-bound Serge Gnabry found the net in Germany's opening UEFA U-21 EURO fixture against the Czech Republic. - © © imago / Contrast

Gnabry, Selke and the Bundesliga brood chasing UEFA U-21 gold with Germany

Born, raised and - for the most part - blooded in the Bundesliga, another outrageously gifted Germany ensemble continue their quest for UEFA European Under-21 Championship gold on Sunday with a 2-0 win against Czech Republic.

Germany's U-21s have not progressed beyond the semi-finals since winning the biennial competition for the first and only time in 2009, but have more than enough quality and experience to once again go the distance in Poland.

"We had a great qualifying campaign and have prepared excellently for the tournament," said 22-year-old forward Davie Selke, fresh from his intra-Bundesliga summer transfer from RB Leipzig to Hertha Berlin. "We all know what the team did in 2009 and went on to achieve. We know we have a massive chance."

Although there are some notable absentees after the likes of Julian Brandt, Matthias Ginter, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich and Timo Werner were all called up to represent the senior team at the FIFA 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, Stefan Kuntz's squad is anything but depleted.

Nineteen of members of the side share 1122 Bundesliga appearances between them, while the remaining four – goalkeepers Marvin Schwäbe (Dresden), Julian Pollersbeck (Kaiserslautern) and Odisseas Vlachodimos (Panathanikos), and Waldemar Anton of promoted Hannover - were all club stalwarts in their own right last term.

"If we lose 10 good players, we always get another good 10," explained Wolfsburg midfielder and Germany U-21 captain Maximilian Arnold. "We all want to learn, we're very hungry to succeed. We've got more than enough quality in the side. There's enormous potential. We'll see where the journey takes us."

Watch: Ten A-Grade strikes, including a Maxi Arnold rocket

For some, the journey has already been paved with gold. Last summer, Selke, Hoffenheim's Jeremy Toljan, Schalke's Max Meyer and Bayern Munich newcomer Serge Gnabry won Olympic silver with Die Mannschaft in Rio De Janeiro. Two years earlier in Hungary, Hertha's Niklas Stark, Freiburg's Marc-Oliver Kempf, Mainz's Levin Öztunali and Selke got their hands on the UEFA U-19 Championship.

It is a boys-to-men progression a handful of the Bundesliga's more established graduates know all too well. Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira, Manuel Neuer and Mesut Özil all started the 2009 UEFA U-21 final against England, before going on to form the spine of the senior team that conquered the world in 2014.

Combined, the two successes provided confirmation of the country's drastic grassroots overhaul in the wake of demoralizing showings at EURO 2000 and 2004. Inevitably, they also provide the benchmark to which all others now aspire - the current crop of U-21 talent very much included.

"We know how highly regarded the competitions is," says Selke. "It's a really, really important tournament for us, and there will be a lot of attention on it here at the German Football Association. That’s why every one is itching to get going, to show what they're capable of."

Watch: Davie Selke's brace against new employers Hertha

Selke, for one, has much to prove. Despite representing Germany at every youth level from the U-16s upwards, and making 84 Bundesliga and Bundesliga 2 appearances, the new Hertha man has yet to establish himself as a genuine goal-scoring force at senior club level. For now, he remains a classic case of potential untapped.

The opposite is true of Selke's international teammate, Gnabry. Arsenal's one that got away burst onto the Bundesliga scene with Werder Bremen last season, wowing audiences with his pace, trickery and finishing ability. Eleven Bundesliga goals and two assists later, he heads to the U-21 finals as one of Bayern's marquee pre-season signings, underlining his reputation with a goal against the Czechs.

Watch: Bayern new boy Serge Gnabry in action for Bremen

"Serge brings something to every team he plays in," commented Horst Hrubesch, mastermind of Germany's EURO U-19 title triumph and Olympic silver medal win. "For me, he could play for Barcelona, with his pace, technique and his manner as a person. He can be one of the best players at the European Championship, and I'm sure he will be."

Gnabry is, nonetheless, one standout name in a squad overflowing with Bundesliga talent present and future. Schalke academy product Thilo Kehrer, Hoffenheim's Nadiem Amiri and Borussia Dortmund newcomer Maximillian Philipp - to name but a few - collectively form part of an all-starlet cast, more than capable of emulating the class of 2009 and penning their own chapter in the annals of German football history.

Chris Mayer-Lodge

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