YOUTH
03.13.2019

Night to remember for birthday boys

It was a magical moment for the TSG academy: an evening laden with tension and drama on Tuesday ended with the U19s beating Dynamo Kiev on penalties to set up a meeting with Real Madrid in the UEFA Youth League quarter-finals. For two of TSG Hoffenheim's key men in the last-16 triumph – the shot-stopper who saved two penalties and the defensive midfielder who held his nerve to slot home the decisive spot-kick – it was the perfect birthday gift.

A broad grin appeared to be permanently etched on his face. Even as he gave his third interview and was congratulated for the umpteenth time, Ikay Elmkies would and could not hide his emotions. Minutes earlier the Israeli midfielder, who turned 19 two days ago, had converted the decisive spot-kick, sending his team into the quarter-final and sparking wild celebrations at the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion in the process. "I felt confident and I said to myself: 'chest out'. And I absolutely wanted to get the win for my team. I can barely describe the emotions I felt afterwards," said the beaming Elmkies moments after seeing his spot-kick strike the back of the net.

But when pressed about his decisive penalty, the midfield maestro chose to single out the performance of the other birthday boy in the team. "I need to thank Daniel for saving a second penalty and giving me the opportunity to win the match for my team."

Excitement for Real Madrid

The team-mate in question was shot-stopper Daniel Klein, who saved two spot-kicks the day before his 18th birthday and paved the way for his team to reach the quarter-finals. "It's simply a fantastic feeling to have made a contribution and helped the team – and to have done so on home soil too," said the Germany U18 international, who had no intention of downplaying the significance of the match. "It's definitely the highlight of my career to date," he declared.

In the immediate aftermath of those shootout heroics  in which David Otto, Alfons Amade and Benjamin Wallquist also slotted home their spot-kicks for the hosts – there was one name on everyone's lips at the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion: Real Madrid. It was clear from the players and coach that excitement has already reached fever pitch ahead of the quarter-final meeting with Los Blancos. "It will be an absolute highlight to see Real Madrid coming over here and the stadium will probably be packed to the rafters. It would be an unprecedented experience to play here in front of a sell-out crowd," said U19 head coach Marcel Rapp, who could scarcely hide the pride he felt at the performance of his charges. "The lads are a real team. Every one of them works for each other. We've already made our mark in Germany and now I think we're starting to draw attention to ourselves in Europe."

Elmkies: "We need to find the right balance"

One thing's for sure: the Dynamo Kiev youngsters, who had beaten Juventus by a 3-0 scoreline in the previous round, are unlikely to forget the name TSG Hoffenheim any time soon. The Ukrainians were denied a first-ever quarter-final appearance by the Kraichgau club, having previously been eliminated at the last-16 stage two years ago when they lost 3-0 to Ajax.

Although the men from Kiev had their chances at the Dietmar-Hopp-Stadion – the most notable of which was missed by captain and centre-back Denys Popov, who hit the crossbar from six metres early in the second half – the mood in the Hoffenheim dressing room was certainly that the TSG juniors deserved their place in the next round. Head coach Rapp spoke of his side's superiority while his defensive midfielder Elmkies, a huge yet agile presence in front of the defence, said. "Today was simply about getting through. Initially we wanted to err on the side of caution, but in the second period we started to attack more. But at the same time, it was important not to concede a goal. That's why we needed the right balance. But in the end we deserved to win."

For the Heidelberg-born shot-stopper Daniel Klein, being able to celebrate his 18th birthday just hours after the victory over Kiev was the perfect way to end the day. "It was an early birthday present for me and the team," said the beaming gloveman, who has already turned his attentions to the quarter-final tie in three weeks. "Playing Real at home will be something quite special. But we're obviously now hoping to reach the last four and we simply want to get as far as we possibly can."

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