European U21 Championship: The ones to watch


The European Under-21 Championships get underway on Wednesday, so the Eurosport network takes a look at some of the potential stars of the tournament in Israel.

Regarding the big guns such as Spain, England, Italy and Germany, we have stuck with players you may not have heard of. We assume you don’t need to be told about David De Gea, Lewis Holtby, Jordan Henderson or Marco Verratti...

Group A


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Wilfried Zaha (Manchester United) – all eyes are on United’s new signing, who has proven himself to be a great Championship player for Crystal Palace but is yet to be tested on the biggest stages, although he showed he could handle pressure with a standout performance in the play-off final. With searing pace, confounding trickery and a very direct style of play, the Ivory Coast-born winger-forward could well turn out to be the new Cristiano Ronaldo. Or the new Bebe.

Thomas Ince (Blackpool) – Another Championship player, Ince has dominated England’s second tier and looks like a Premier League star in the making. He may well be after these finals, with several teams sniffing around as early as last summer. Quick, tricky and with an eye for goal (18 in the league last season), he and England will be hugely dangerous from wide positions.

Connor Wickham (Sunderland) – While he struggled to find goals for Sunderland last season, the powerful young striker can certainly make an impact in Israel having scored England’s play-off winner in Serbia. Tall, strong and with a good first touch, he suits Stuart Pearce’s direct style of play and will bring the midfielders into the game, which is vital when the likes of Zaha and Ince around.


Nir Biton (FC Ashdod) – The 6’5” defensive midfielder is one of the most highly-rated prospects in Israeli football history. A beast of a man, he can also get involved higher up the pitch and was surprisingly waived by Manchester City after an impressive trial last summer. Is expected to move on after these championships, Biton is already a senior international and could go all the way.

Eyal Golasa (Maccabi Haifa) – It is surprising that Golasa still plies his trade in his homeland as he has been highly rated for some years since making his club debut as a 17-year-old. The attacking midfielder, who can also play on the left, dictates the tempo of play and weighs in with the odd goal. He has already made seven appearances for the senior national team and, having seen a £4m move to Lazio break down in 2010, this is another shop window for him to shine.

Taleb Twatha (Maccabi Haifa) – An attacking left-back and a fine crosser of the ball, Twatha is one of the handful of Arabs who have played for the senior national team. First choice for his club, he is only 20 and set to be Israel’s left-back for years to come. An ever-present in Haifa’s 2011-12 European campaign.


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Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli) – The diminutive playmaker smashed in the goals during loan spells in Italy’s second and third tiers, and was given the chance to impress after Ezequiel Lavezzi left for PSG. He took it with both hands, hitting five Serie A goals despite mostly featuring as a substitute in a star-studded Napoli squad. Quick, tricky and direct, what he lacks in size (he’s only 5‘4”!) he makes up for in heart.

Ciro Immobile (Genoa) – The bustling target man joined Genoa after failing to break into the Juventus team, and he has all the attributes to become a key player for Italy. With Marco Verratti and Insigne he was a (loan) star of Pescara’s promotion last year, but afterwards he was the unlucky one. At Genoa he didn’t find enough space to shine, kept out by Marco Borriello and scoring only five goals (in 2011-12 he hit 28 as Serie B’s top scorer). But with Italy U21 he has a coach – Devis Mangia – who likes his way of playing and he is ready to take the main spot again, even if it is one of the Azzurrini’s best ever front lines. A true modern striker, with great quality and strong shooting power, he is the perfect foil to his best friend Insigne.

Riccardo Saponara (Empoli) – The winger been forgiven for defying the Italian federation by playing in the Serie B play-off final second leg on Sunday, but he is expected to start for Italy. Compared by many to another famous ‘Ricky’ (Kaka) thanks to his modern interpretation of the trequartista role, Mangia will use him as a right winger in a very offensive 4-4-2 (almost a 4-2-4). With amazing touch and skills, he has been bought in a co-ownership deal by Parma and AC Milan but is set to join the Rossoneri next season.


Havard Nordtveit (Borussia Moenchengladbach) – You may be familiar with this name, as the 22-year-old was on Arsenal’s books as a youth. Strangely let go for a cut-price £800k, the then-defender has since been converted into the kind of tough defensive midfielder the Gunners would love to have. Was instrumental in Gladbach’s fourth-placed finish in 2012, he has thrived following the departure of Michael Bradley and could find himself at one of Germany’s big clubs soon.

Valon Berisha (Red Bull Salzburg) – Kosovo’s woes have seen many European nations gain some fantastic technical footballers, with Berisha (below) the latest in the line of former Yugoslav refugees to turn out for the likes of Norway, Sweden and Switzerland. He can dribble, pass, shoot and score, the complete attacking midfielder. In addition to his great feet, he has a good head on him too, having rejected several Premier League clubs after deciding he would be unlikely to play in the first team. Now he’s in Austria, where he is one of the stand-out players, and a good performance in Israel could well see him make the step up to a top league.

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Yann-Erik de Lanlay (Viking) – As you can probably tell by the name, De Lanlay is half-French and boasts the kind of technique we’ve come to know from the likes of Platini and Zidane. While he is not at that level, the two-footed Viking forward has wonderful skill, is a fine passer and can score the odd goal too. Has been fast-tracked to the senior national team but probably needs to leave Norway to reach his full potential, which could be anywhere from his current ability up to the highest level.

Group B


Emre Can (Bayern Munich) – He won the treble with Bayern this season, but only played four Bundesliga games with Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Bastian Schweinsteiger ahead of him. The 19-year-old midfielder isn't satisfied with his situation. "Next year I won’t have the same situation like in the past – to train with professionals and play with amateurs." His confidence appears justified – he is one of Germanys best up-and-coming players in his position, which is similar to Schweinsteiger's. His style is similar too – tall, strong but with excellent close control and passing, he is a born leader. Yet to play for the U21s but is expected to start and will probably head out on loan next season to show his full talent.

Patrick Herrmann (Borussia Moenchengladbach) – After Marco Reus left Gladbach many expected Herrmann (below) to shine, but the pressure of being the 'new Reus' annoyed him: "I’m Patrick Herrmann and I think it’s a little much to compare me with him. Marco Reus plays on another level". He has been called up by the senior national team but did not play, and this season he managed six goals and six assists in 32 matches. He is actually quite similar to Reus – a technical, attack-minded midfielder with good movement and touch – but he is aware there is much work to do. "I want to play for Germany," he said. "That’s my goal and I’ll hard work on it."

Peniel Mlapa (Borussia Moenchengladbach) – Not first choice for his club, but the former Hoffenheim hit-man is second-top scorer in this squad behind Lewis Holtby. Standing at 6'5", he is the main aerial threat and also boasts good skill on the deck. The likes of Pierre-Michel Lasogga and Sebastian Polter have similar attributes and will compete for the target man role, meaning he may play just behind them. Could have played for Togo but has elected to try his luck with his adopted homeland.


Kevin Strootman (PSV) – The defensive midfielder could be a Manchester United player by the end of this tournament, and with good reason. He is strong, quick, clever and has good technical attributes and is generally considered to be good enough for one of Europe’s top clubs. Likely to be one of the dominant midfielders in Israel.

Tonny Trindade de Vilhena (Feyenoord) – The tricky playmaker (below) is only 18 years old but is already a starter for Feyenoord. He became the youngest player at the club to score twice in one match this season and is a livewire with and without the ball. Made his U21 debut in February, scoring too, and was called up for the senior squad soon afterwards although did not play. Could well be a revelation.

Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV) – Wijnaldum has been around forever and it’s amazing that he’s only 22. The diminutive playmaker-winger started out at Feyenoord, making a remarkable 134 appearances before he had even turned 21. Now a goalscoring midfielder for PSV, he has bags of pace, great skill and an eye for goal. Could well go all the way.


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Alan Dzagoev (CSKA Moscow) Was all the rage at Euro 2012, but went off the boil before hitting form again. Dzagoev has great vision and passing, an amazing touch and delivers a good set-piece. Arguably the most talented Russian player since Andrei Arshavin but, like the former Arsenal man, he lacks mental strength, hence why he still plays in Russia. He's had issues with club boss Leonid Slutsky over his behaviour, and got in a bit of trouble for some naughty chanting against Zenit St Petersburg at the end of this title-winning season.

Denis Cheryshev (Real Madrid) – One of the most promising Russian players, but due to being at Real Madrid has not had too many chances to shine. Born in Russia but raised in Spain after dad Dmitri joined Sporting Gijon, he is a fast and skilful winger. Cheryshev has been one of the stars of Real Madrid’s B team over the last few years, and this season he made his debut for the main team. In December he rejected offers from Zenit and CSKA, and made it clear that he would like to fight his way to the starting XI of Real Madrid. While he has bags of ability, that seems unlikely with Cristiano Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria in his way, so expect a loan move to a Liga side this summer.


Daniel Carvajal (Real Madrid) – After failing to break into Real’s senior team, the locally born right-back (below) was bought by Bayer Leverkusen, where he was immediately a first-team regular in their hunt for European football. He even was named third-best right-back in the Bundesliga, not bad for a youngster making his debut. As is often the way with Spanish transfers, a buy-back clause was inserted and only this week he was confirmed back at the Bernabeu, where he is expected to provide competition for a starting place.

Koke (Atletico Madrid) - Last summer Koke was hugely disappointing in a terrible Olympic Games campaign for Spain. However, he has found form again thanks to Diego Simeone freeing him from the anchorman role and allowing him to play further up the pitch. He is also now taking many of Atletico's set pieces and has emerged as a key player.

Asier Illarramendi (Real Sociedad) - A revelation in La Liga this season. As a defensive midfielder he has been one of the best players at Real Sociedad and helped them to finish in a surprise fourth position. He can beat pretty much anyone in the challenge and is a fine link between attack and defence too. Destined for bigger things.

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