They are the best hopes for a brittle Germany to outflank England on Wembley’s wide open spaces on Tuesday evening. They are the strength, the rationale of a 3-4-3 formation designed to upgrade a team that has known some very low ebbs. Joshua Kimmich and Robin Gosens are both 26, but that’s just about where the likeness stops.
Kimmich, right-footed, and Robin Gosens, better with his left, form an unlikely partnership, though when Germany have been at their best in a turbulent, tense and inconsistent Euro 2020, they have been the crucial axis, the device by which Portugal were stretched and conquered 4-2. That is Germany's only victory so far.
Bayern Munich's Kimmich, he has strongly hinted, would rather play elsewhere in the team. His decorated career has been spent largely in two roles, central midfielder and right-back, and at Bayern, where he won his sixth successive Bundesliga title in May, the preferred position lately has been anchoring the midfield.
Atalanta's Gosens, meanwhile, has to pinch himself to believe he is at a major tournament at all. He only made his Germany debut last September and when he received a text message from manager Joachim Low before his first call-up, his immediate instinct was “This is a prank.”
He re-read the message, convinced it was one of his friends playing a joke. “My first thought”, he recalled in his recently published memoir, “was that ‘Joachim Low wouldn’t write in that way.’”
His suspicions were misplaced. He agreed to chat, Low responded straight away to arrange a time.
So it was that Gosens reached another landmark moment in his haphazard late-bloom of a career, one that, most unusually for a Germany international, has completely bypassed the Bundesliga.
As a young aspiring footballer, with pace, strength and a fine left foot, he had trials to join Borussia Dortmund's youth system, but the verdict from Dortmund, a club famed for its talent-spotting, was a firm 'No'. He was approaching his 17th birthday, and he felt, with that rejection, "the door to professional football had been shut even before a way in had been glimpsed. Not just shut, but bolted with heavy bars," he writes in his book, It's Worth Having Dreams.
Portugal 2 Germany 4: player ratings
Gosens, rejected in Germany, had to rise gradually via a circuitous route, helped by his mixed background. His father is Dutch, his mother German, and he grew up very close to the Germany-Netherlands border, fluent in both languages.
Dutch club football would find a space for him. He earned a junior contract at Vitesse Arnhem, a club which takes many talented young players on loan – notably from Chelsea – because it has a good reputation for its schooling.
Gosens never reached the first-team at Vitesse, though, and was nearly 20 when he played a senior competitive match for the first time, on loan at Dordrecht in the second tier of the Dutch league.
Meanwhile, by the end of his teens, Kimmich was already on the fast-track to the big time. He had done his apprenticeship at Stuttgart and was identified by the most upwardly-mobile club in Germany as a prodigy they wanted to help them with their climb.
He joined wealthy RB Leipzig in the third tier, won promotion immediately and before the club could persuade him he should commit to their rapid ongoing transformation into Bundesliga heavyweights, Bayern had offered him a long-term future. Kimmich signed a five-year deal with Bayern just before his 20th birthday.
The rest can be summed up in the praise and trust Kimmich has gained from coaches such as Pep Guardiola and Hansi Flick, under whom he won the 2020 European Cup.
He has been dubbed ‘The New Phillip Lahm’, after the versatile World Cup-winning German captain. He is every manager’s reliable problem-solver. The only problem is that he commands two positions so well there’s a dilemma which one to use him in.
Kimmich is in his third major tournament with Germany. He will play his 59th match against England, aiming to deliver his searchlight crosses and expert dead balls. Gosens, brilliant at in Serie A over the past two seasons, will play only his 11th international.
On one flank, Kimmich, the model professional. On the other, Gosens the maverick, the wild-card confronting whichever of England’s many fine right-backs has to marshal him. Low needs both at the top of their form.