The two year cycle between the UEFA U21 European Championships is almost over as the 2019 edition is set to start this Sunday in Italy & San Marino with a number of top international nations from the continents elite participating in a twelve team tournament held over the next two weeks.
Current holders Germany and 2017 finalists Spain will again be present. As will Italy, France, Belgium, England and a handful of other famous countries from across Europe too.
In Poland 2017 we saw the likes of Serge Gnabry and the three Max’s… Meyer, Arnold & Phillip star for the winners Germany whilst runners up Spain had the likes of Gerard Delofeu who was their captain, Saul Niguez, Marco Asensio, Dani Ceballos, Hector Bellerin & Kepa Arrizabalaga amongst their ranks.
Italy and England the beaten semi-finalists had the likes of Donnarumma, Rugani, Caldara, Gagliardini and Enrico Chiesa… Jordan Pickford, Ben Chilwell, Jack Grealish, Tammy Abraham to name a few. This competition is always one that highlights the capabilities of the best young players in the continent and puts the stars of the future in the shop window.
Previous players of the tournament include Juan Mata, Andrea Pirlo, Fabio Cannavaro, Luis Figo, Davor Suker, Laurent Blanc… The list is endless when it comes to showcasing the best footballers Europe has to offer.
Perhaps what is not the most important outcome is who wins the tournament, but who goes on to fulfil their promising careers. In short I take a look at the twelve participants and the players to look out for as ones that could be around at the top of the game in years to come.
Italy under 21’s (Group A)
Golden boy is Nicolo Zaniolo who has already starred in the Champions League for AS Roma this season but many will be aware of strikers Enrico Chiesa at Fiorentina and Moise Kean at Juventus. I however will pomp for Nicolo Barella at Cagliari who is a classy footballer in the middle of the park. Barella has already played 7 times for the full national team and has been linked with big money moves to both Inter and Juventus in recent months.
Spain under 21’s (Group A)
Mikel Oyarzabal could be the star of the show, a pacey winger with an eye for goal from Real Sociedad and one to watch for the scouts but I really like the look of West Ham United’s recent signing Pablo Fornals who’s been gracefully making his presence at Villarreal before a £24m move. Napoli speedster Fabian Ruiz is another that I think will do well as I predict a big season for him as he aims to cement a place in the full team ahead of Euro 2020.
Poland under 21’s (Group A)
People in England might know Krystian Bielik of Arsenal who has spent a terrific season on loan at Charlton Athletic eventually gaining promotion in the playoffs. Star man however is Dawid Kownacki who spent the latter half of last season on loan at Fortuna Dusseldorf from Sampdoria. With senior caps already the 6ft striker will look to push the likes of Milik, Lewandowski, Piatek and co for a starting place within the next twelve months.
Belgium under 21’s (Group A)
Look out for Yari Verschaeren a diminutive 17 year old winger who has already made over 20 starts for Anderlecht and is a real hotly tipped youngster. Aaron Layer Iseka is a strong physical sort in attack currently playing in France with Toulouse. Isaac Mbenza has had Premier League experience with Huddersfield Town, as has Dodi Lukebakio with Watford.
Germany under 21’s (Group B)
Packed with Bundesliga experience the Germans have Hoffenheim playmaker Nadiem Amiri who played in the 2017 final and has already eyed up the likes of Liverpool. I’m a big fan of Mahmoud Dahoud the Borussia Dortmund playmaker in the mould of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and strong centre back Jonathan Tah who has played over 100 times for Bayer Leverkusen and six times already for his country.
Denmark under 21’s (Group B)
The closest thing I’ve seen to a Laudrup is Robert Skov which is high praise alone but last season for Copenhagen he netted 29 times from midfield. Geat on the ball, gifted with guile he’ll surely be one in the shopping window of Europe’s top clubs. Another star in the making is Jacob Bruun Larsen of Borussia Dortmund. The busy attacking midfielder is full of energy and has bags of potential.
Serbia under 21’s (Group B)
No longer a secret in the many pundits lists of next best world footballers is striker Luka Jovic who has just signed for Real Madrid for a fee near £70m. Last season he hot shot to 17 Bundesliga goals for Eintracht Frankfurt and at 21 could lead the line for Los Blancos for a long time to come. Another player to look out for is Nikola Milenkovic who had a strong season in defence for Fiorentina and Andrija Zivkovic the Benfica winger who is very skilful.
Austria under 21’s (Group B)
Will perhaps find qualification difficult but in Kevin Danso they have a solid athletic ball winning midfielder at 6ft3in who played last season in the German league for Augsburg. Hannes Wolf is an exciting prospect at Red Bull Salzburg and Phillip Leinhart at centre half was once on the books of Real Madrid.
England under 21’s (Group C)
Phil Foden and James Maddison are my stand out players for England but I’m hoping Tammy Abraham after a fantastic season at Aston Villa continues with his goalscoring form. Off the radar slightly Fikayo Tomori has had a terrific season at centre half with Derby County whilst Mason Mount has too. I like Kieran Dowell who has a terrific football brain whilst Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been talked about amongst huge money moves.
France under 21’s (Group C)
Where do you start with a team full of stars? France have an embarrassment of riches with the likes of Moussa Dembele of Lyon and Jonathan Bamba of Lille in attack. Midfielder Houssem Aouar of Lyon is hotly tipped for big things whilst Dayot Upamecano of Red Bull Leipzig is one of the best young centre backs on the planet. I however trump all of them with Malang Sarr of Nice. The right back could be one of the stars of the tournament and already rumoured with a move to Arsenal could be coming to the Premier League very soon.
Romania under 21’s (Group C)
Ianis Hagi is a player that springs to mind as the son of the great Romanian number 10 Gheorghe and one that has enjoyed a positive start to his career. But I like Florinel Coman who is a young winger at Steaua Bucharest who once alerted Chelsea and one that could yet take off if his fulfils his undenying potential. George Puskas of Palermo is a useful striker with 8 caps and 4 goals for the full national team and could alert a few clubs should he have a good tournament.
Croatia under 21’s (Group C)
Finally Alen Halilovic is one that has been largely tipped by many to become one of Croatia’s best. His stop start progression from Barcelona to Hamburg and Milan with a few loans chucked in has seemingly dented his confidence but the Modric-esque midfielder is one that I think will certainly improve with age. Josip Brekalo is a hard working striker I like whilst Lovro Majar of Dinamo Zagreb could be one of the games superstars in years to come.
Tip For The Tournament
France, but only if they see off England in Group C as they should be too strong in depth for the others they face although Germany, Spain and perhaps Italy as dark horses should be thereabouts for a semi-final slot. England may struggle depending on the outcome of their first game and against the tricky looking Croatia but should they win against France it will set a precedent and the way the national team has played at all levels in recent years, it would be tough to back against them creating more history this time under the stewardship of former Mansfield Town defender Aidy Boothroyd.