S.tefan Kuntz had already expanded his definition of team spirit before the European Championship semi-final duel between his U-21 national team and the Netherlands. “Team spirit doesn’t just mean sticking together,” said the trainer of this very special team, describing his evolutionary vision of the associated development process.
“One step higher, it is also about bringing my teammate into the game in such a way that he can bring his special talents to the table.” Who the football and people who understand from the Saarland meant after the dramatic quarter-final win against Denmark on penalties, he said without further ado : Florian Wirtz.
The 18-year-old Bayer 04 Leverkusen climber returned to the U21 team after his detour to his colleagues from the senior national team in March, in which he was not yet allowed to play in two qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup, where the great talent had been up until then hadn’t left a large footprint in three missions. Not even on Monday evening in Szekesfehervar, where Kuntz used the sprinter, dribbler and game designer in eighth position. Wirtz was replaced in the middle of the second half after a more hard-working than liberated appearance.
The shooting star strikes
And now that: on Thursday evening, the Rhinelander shone, performed magic and scored in the German jersey as well as on his best days in the service of the Bayer Werkself. Kuntz and his coaching colleagues Daniel Niedzkowski and Antonio di Salvo decided after “many talks” with the youngest professional in the German EM squad to rely on Wirtz’s youthful Sturm und Drang. Equipped with freedom of action in a 4-3-3 system on the right wing position, the precocious high school graduate from Pulheim-Brauweiler immediately capitalized on his opportunities.
Carried and supported by the solidarity in this team, the shooting star struck after just 29 seconds after a finely tared pass from the center forward Lukas Nmecha. With the anticipation of a born attacker, Wirtz took off and used the precise template with a volley to make it 1-0. No one has reached their goal at a U-21 European Championship faster, i.e. over 15 stations away from the German kick-off.
Once in the flow, Wirtz gilded his personal start-to-finish victory in the eighth minute to 2-0 when he fooled the slightly favored Dutch on the right corner of the box with a feint and placed the ball in the lower left corner of the goal. The 2: 0 shocked the Dutch, who had never really gotten into the game until then, who were only able to reduce it to 1: 2 due to a goalkeeping mistake by Mainz’s Finn Dahmen by Schuurs (67th), but afterwards they could no longer conjure up any danger.
Minutes after his two big moments, the hero of the evening first had to make sure that everything he had just experienced in fast motion could be true. “After a few minutes I had to see how things were going.” The signs actually pointed early towards the final, which will take place on Sunday evening (9:00 pm at ProSieben) in the Slovenian capital Ljubljana.
Certainly again with Wirtz, who has now finally been integrated into the U21 and will probably return to the senior national team in the fall, and also with the German left winger and unlucky Mergim Berisha, who had managed the feat of failing three times in a game against the post. In a good mood as almost always, Kuntz suspected that the European Football Union would probably present the RB Salzburg striker with a “golden goal post”.
The biggest prize, however, for the team that is now playing and fighting for everything, which has blossomed into a strong ensemble in addition to its unity, is possible in the final, which leader Kuntz has achieved for the third time in a row since he took office in 2016: in 2017 he greeted as Head of his “boys”, who were coached for the first time in a major tournament, after beating Spain 1-0 as European champions, in 2019 the Germans returned from Italy after a 2-1 draw against Spain as a narrowly beaten runner-up. And now? They face Portugal, the strongest offensive team in the European Championship with twelve goals, which won a 1-0 victory over the better Spaniards on Thursday.
What was almost more important to Kuntz on Thursday than talking about the game of the games in this tournament in Hungary and Slovenia was a reference to his employer, the German Football Association (DFB). And so on this Thursday he recorded the pure joy of an exemplary collective performance with two strokes of genius by a team player and soloist at the same time: “The DFB has certainly not made many positive headlines in the last few weeks. But this is also DFB. We play the football that football traditionalists want to see at home. I’m also happy for the DFB employees. It’s nice that the staff at the DFB also have this support. ”A clear statement from a courageous coach, to whom all doors could be open after this tournament. Not just those in the German Football Association.