The 19th under-21 European Championship kicks off in Israel later this evening, with eight teams battling it out to be Champions of the next generation.
It is an opportunity for players to make names for themselves, or enhance their reputation, on an international level.
Scouts from Europe’s biggest clubs will be present, looking to find the next Juan Mata or Mesut Ozil. A string of eye catching performances at this level by the latter in 2009 attracted attention from across Europe. He then took the World Cup by storm the following year, thus earning a move to Real Madrid.
This year’s tournament has a number of big names taking part- Kevin Strootman, David De Gea and Wilfried Zaha to name a few.
Unlike the senior championships, the U21 tournament has only eight nations. These are split into two groups.
Here is a look at each nation and their chances of success.
As hosts, Israel qualified for the tournament automatically. They have won only 5 of their last 15 matches and this is their first appearance at the tournament since 2007. On paper they pose little threat to their opponents, but as the host nation, they may get a few surprise results.
Verdict: Doubtful to exceed the group stages.
Two time winners England will be looking to restore the nation’s faith on their national football team. After the senior team have received criticism of late, the players may have a real opportunity to break into the senior team. The 2009 squad reached the final, before being taught a lesson by the Germans. The side boasts an experienced captain in Jordan Henderson and have young talents Nathaniel Chalobah, Tom Ince and Wilfried Zaha to provide flair to the side. Worryingly, there isn’t a player who plays regularly for any of the top 4 of the Premier League.
Verdict: Would expect to at least qualify for the semi-finals but could fall short against much stronger opponents from Group B.
Their first tournament appearance for 15 years and will be full of confidence after beating France 5-3 in October. Ex-Celtic defender Thomas Rogne will be looking to impress as he searches for a new club and ex-Manchester City youth player Omar Elabdellaoui will want to prove himself after failing to break through at Eastlands. Blackburn Rovers forward Josh King will miss the first group match due to senior involvement bit will be a key player once he joins the squad in Israel.
Verdict: Wouldn’t write off the Norwegians completely from qualifying from their group. They’ll be happy reach the semi finals but definitely a long shot to win.
Five times winner’s Italy will be looking for their first success since 2004 and some of their next generation already play across Europe. Fabio Borini is the only Italian representative from the Premier League and he will probably be watched closely by Liverpool fans. They are yet to see the best of him after he missed a huge chunk of the season due to injury. Napoli’s creative player Lorenzo Insigne will be key to crafting goals for the Azzuri.
Verdict: You’d expect them to pass the group stages, would be interesting to see how they cope against strong outfits such as the Germans, Dutch or Spanish.
With a number of clubs producing young talent, Spain are definitely one of the favourites to win the tournament. With Benfica’s Rodrigo, who is reportedly attracting Tottenham, Malaga’s Man City-bound Isco and David De Gea in goal, Spain have some of Europe’s biggest young names in their squad. Their conveyor belt of talent continues to produce and they will be hoping to follow Juan Mata, amongst others, from the under-21 to senior squad.
Verdict: They’ll be hungry to retain the trophy, which will be their fourth win. A final appearance wouldn’t surprise many as Spain continue to dominate international football.
The German’s are renown for their talented youth set up in recent years. They failed to keep hold of the trophy in 2011 after success in 2009. After a great year for German football, the under-21 squad will be looking to maintain the positivity. Lewis Holtby’s creativity will be key for them and it will also be a good chance for Spurs fans to watch their young signing, from Schalke in January, take the tournament by storm.
Verdict: Qualifying from the ‘Group of Death’ won’t be easy, but the German’s will certainly expect to do so. Also wouldn’t bet against them failing to make the semi-finals and losing out to Holland.
The Russian’s always surprise at international tournaments and they could be a shock nation in the semi-finals. They will be far from push-over’s and will show fight like the senior side have in previous years. CSKA Moscow’s Alan Dzagoev will be key to their success. His performances for the senior team last year caught the attention of many clubs across Europe. This tournament could see his performances finally get his big move.
Verdict: Outsiders to qualify from their group but wouldn’t surprise many if they did.
Two-time winners Holland are another strong side hungry for success. They have a number of players tipped for the top, Kevin Strootman in particular. The PSV playmaker has been linked with a move to Man United in recent years, with rumours getting stronger in recent weeks. Strootman and Jordy Clasie will be the Dutch creative midfielders looking to assist key striker Luuk de Jong, of Borussia Mönchengladbach.
Verdict: Full of potential and creativity. Expect them to go far in the tournament.