Pascal Itter was seconds away from tasting UEFA European Under-17 Championship glory in May, only for a last-gasp Netherlands equaliser and ensuing penalty shoot-out win in Ljubljana to give the Dutch their second consecutive final success against Germany.
The 17-year-old Itter, an up-and-coming defender at 1. FC Nürnberg, scored in the shoot-out and gained further consolation last month when he received the Fair Play trophy on behalf of the Germany squad. He spoke to UEFA.com about his experience in Slovenia.
UEFA.com: Can you talk us through playing at the U17 Championship?
Pascal Itter: It was certainly a great experience, one you don't have every day, and one we enjoyed as well. But we also wanted to win. We made it to the final but it was a bitter moment to lose. Nevertheless you learn from it and become stronger.
UEFA.com: What did you learn from the experience?
Itter: I definitely learned it's always about winning or losing, and performing at the right time. And that it can only work in football [if you work] as a team. The environment around you is also important. And to know for myself that I'm a good footballer and I can play at that level.
UEFA.com What was different about preparing for matches during a tournament?
Itter: It's totally different from the league routine. You prepare differently – you know this is a tournament and you have a lot of games in a few days, and you look forward to it. You are together with the team every day and it's just a nice experience. But above all you have a lot of games in just a few days.
UEFA.com: What are your strongest memories of the final against the Netherlands?
Itter: I think it was the feeling of having lost it. I don't have the good match that I played in my head, rather the bad feeling I had after the game. I even had tears running down ... But this happens in football, and I think you learn from that and you become stronger.
UEFA.com: In terms of big-match temperament, how were you helped by the experience of penalties, a real pressure situation?
Itter: Well, you need to be mentally strong. You have to be sure you really want to bury it, and have that absolute desire to score – but it's even more decisive with a penalty. For me it was clear in that final that I would take a penalty, and that's what I immediately told the coach, that I would take one and would convert it. You need to be strong mentally and have faith that you will score.
UEFA.com: How important was winning the Fair Play prize, and how important is the message that Fair Play sends to young German footballers?
Itter: I think it is a great award, especially because it's given by UEFA, and also because of our play – we were successful but nevertheless stayed fair. And of course it's a motivation to continue to be fair, not to get any cards, to show respect to opponents and be successful like that. It shows you can be successful in sport playing the right way.
UEFA.com: In 2009 Germany won the U17 title with Mario Götze, Marc-André ter Stegen and Bernd Leno, who are all now playing a high level of club football. Can they be an inspiration to young German footballers?
Itter: Yes of course. They are idols for the players playing in their positions, who have come through the national youth teams – you are in a similar situation yourself and you want to achieve the same. It is a positive motivation when you see that [a career] can develop pretty quickly with good performances, a good environment and the necessary luck to be injury free. Then a lot comes through good performances.
UEFA.com: One last question: what advice would you give young players going to future U17 tournaments?
Itter: Well, despite participating and winning or losing, you still haven't achieved anything. It's a nice reward you can take with you in your life, but to make it in the highest levels of Champions League or Bundesliga football in Germany, to earn good money and make your dream come true, you have to think about continuing working hard. Then you can make it like Götze, Ter Stegen or Leno made it.
© 1998-2014 UEFA. All rights reserved.