The European Under 21 Championship kicks off this week to remind the world that, while FIFA may be midway through a tricky exorcism, there are some fantastic young footballers coming through, many of which will see this as the perfect shop window.
The Czech Republic provides the backdrop for the tournament which is sure to be attended by scouting networks from across the globe. As for their chances, Germany and England head the betting at 7/4 and 9/2 respectively whilst the host nation, who always seem to overachieve in international tournaments (hmm…) are a juicy 12/1. Portugal have been the team to catch the eye in qualifying as the only team to get here on the back of winning every game. Their current price of 7/1 looks cracking value for a team high on confidence.
So who are the main protagonists set to dazzle our Digiboxes this summer? Here’s a breakdown of some of Europe’s finest young players, the first of which has been pleasing one half of North London all season.
Harry Kane, England & Tottenham
The talismanic Tottenham striker has been turning heads all year with his somewhat unexpected goal scoring exploits. Twenty one Premier League goals and thirty one in all competitions speaks volumes for his season, and it’s positively refreshing to see a player chomping at the bit to represent his country at any level. If the papers are to be believed, Manchester United are one potential suitor keeping an eye on his progress and a successful under 21 campaign will do no harm to his price tag.
Kevin Volland, Germany & Hoffenheim
Although his goal tally may not match that of Kane, make no mistake that Kevin Volland is a player to be respected. He already has three senior caps to his name and has been making waves in the Bundesliga for the past three seasons, leading the line for Hoffenheim with more appearances than any of their other strikers. He knocked in six goals in six matches during qualifying and would have surely reached more were it not for an injury mid-campaign.
Paulo Oliveria, Portugal & Sporting Lisbon
Experience makes a big difference at this level and Paulo Oliveria brings a wealth of it to under 21 football. Now 23 and eligible due to the fact that he was young enough when qualification began, the commanding centre back played in all ten of his side’s qualifying matches. They shifted just six goals in those matches and are here as the only team to win all of their matches thus far.
Andrea Belotti, Italy & Palermo
I don’t know what came first, the chicken or the celebration, but Andrea Belotti is affectionately known as ‘Il Gallo’, translating as ‘The Rooster’ for non-Italian fluents. I’m sure fans of Italy and Palermo couldn’t care less what he calls himself if he keeps performing as he has done for the past couple of seasons.
Although very different in appearance to Gabriel Batistuta and without a caravan, he oozes the same ruthless striking ability as the legendary Argentinian, and that’s some compliment for the youngster. He loves a shot and rarely scores tap-ins, so this could be the tournament for him to announce himself to the rest of Europe.