5 reasons to be excited about the Under-21 European Championship

Updated: June 16, 2019

Unlike most youth tournaments, the Under-21 European Championship often brings together players you’ve seen before. Here’s why you should keep your eye on the action in Italy.

England’s latest auditions

Gareth Southgate wouldn’t allow England to stagnate after a fourth-place finish at the 2018 World Cup. Drawing on a pool he knows all too well as a former manager of the under-21s, Southgate summoned Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi to the men’s national team as he moved to assemble a younger core.

Aidy Boothroyd’s current lot is made up of players who are ready to make the same leap forward: James Maddison made a seamless transition to Premier League football last season with Leicester City; Phil Foden scored massive goals for Manchester City despite limited playing time; Tammy Abraham may lead the line for Chelsea.

There’s also Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the marauding Crystal Palace right-back who’s reportedly drawn admiring glances from Manchester United. His recovery speed and attacking instinct are the talk of the transfer window.

Following wins at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup and the prestigious 2018 Toulon Tournament, the Young Lions certainly have the talent to add another title to their cabinet. A run of performances could also earn players a coveted transfer to one of the Premier League’s top six.

Famous last names

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Italy‘s Federico Chiesa, France‘s Marcus Thuram, and Romania‘s Ianis Hagi – the sons of Enrico, Lilian, and Gheorghe, respectively – all descend from football royalty. Chiesa and Hagi each play in similar positions to their fathers, while Thuram blazed a path of his own, eschewing family roots in defending to wreak havoc as a winger on the left flank.

They’re all carving out careers in their own right, and succeeding. Chiesa is routinely linked with moves to Italy’s biggest clubs, Hagi has previously been nominated for the Golden Boy award, and Guingamp reportedly slapped a €20-million price tag on Thuram.

But the biggest question mark hangs over Hagi, who’s shouldering not only the burden of a famous last name but also the hopes of a crestfallen footballing nation. Romania last made an appearance at the U21 Euros in 1998 when it fell to the Netherlands in the quarterfinals.

Italy’s new beginning

It’s still hard to believe Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. But the next wave of talent will ensure it doesn’t happen again.

This is probably the strongest team Italy has brought to the Euros since it won three straight from 1992-96. Francesco Totti, Fabio Cannavaro, and Alessandro Nesta all made their mark on the competition and went on to become world-class players in their respective positions.

There are a select few on Luigi Di Biagio’s squad that could kick on from here. Eight players have already earned their senior caps, including standout attacker Moise Kean, who scored two goals in his first three appearances with the Azzurri.

The pieces are there to lay a solid foundation for the future. Those waiting for a call to the senior side have the next two weeks to expedite the process.

The word on Jovic

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Fresh off a reported €60-million transfer to Real Madrid, Luka Jovic is taking a step away from the limelight to pick on opponents his own age. The 21-year-old astonished scouts with his speed, precision, and spatial awareness last season, showing all the attributes top clubs covet in a modern center-forward.

Few players in recent history have shot to fame as quickly as Jovic, who emerged from relative obscurity to score 27 goals across all competitions. It was impossible for Eintracht Frankfurt to resist Madrid’s advances; the German outfit made the sensible decision to pocket a significant profit.

Even though Jovic has faced tough defenders in the Bundesliga, the U21s are just as tough of a proposition.

Ceballos’ second chance

Dani Ceballos lost his way after winning the Player of the Tournament award two years ago at the U21 Euros. A subsequent move to Real Madrid didn’t help: the Spaniard made just 17 league starts under three different managers in the seasons that followed.

So he arrives in Italy this month with something to prove … again.

Ceballos was an afterthought at the beginning of those Euros, starting on the bench before earning starring roles in matches against Portugal, Italy, and Germany and an eventual €16.5-million move to the Spanish capital.

Ceballos dazzled opponents with his dribbling ability and impressive passing range. The hope is that a similarly productive two weeks in Italy will relaunch his career.

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