Top 21 players to watch at the European Under 21 Championship
1. Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)
Unlike their English counterparts, the young Swiss stars of the 2-2 draw between England and Switzerland will play in the tournament. Chief among them is Shaqiri: guaranteed to entertain you during matches with his exciting dribbling and shooting, and his ability to make you think Gerard Pique’s girlfriend is on the pitch.
2. Bojan Krkic (Spain)
Once expected to become a world-beater for Barcelona and Spain, Krkic has lost his way a little in recent times. The forthcoming tournament could be his chance to start afresh, bit least by convincing one of his many suitors to make a bid this summer.
3. Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
The new Michael Laudrup rose to prominence outside Denmark and his adopted homeland with a virtuoso display against England, which saw him named man of the match. The talented midfielder is linked with moves to a host of top clubs this summer, but he has one last stint in the shop window before then. Hails from the Danish town of Middelfart *schoolboy snigger*.
4. Daniel Sturridge (England)
The ex-Manchester City youngster looked destined to join the likes of Steve Sidwell and Scott Parker on the wasted England talent Stamford Bridge scrapheap. But a hugely successful loan spell at Bolton has kickstarted his career. He goes into the tournament in tip-top form and touted as a Chelsea starter for next season.
5. Tomás Pekhart (Czech Republic)
Shipped on by many a Spurs boss on the Football Manager game (that’s where you know the name from), the young Czech was sold by real-life gaffer Harry Redknapp in January 2010. He has rebuilt his career away from White Hart Lane, quickly working his way back-up the football pyramid. He will start next season at Bundesliga outfit FC Nuremberg.
6. Juan Mata (Spain)
One of two World Cup-winners appearing at the tournament to blow the arguments that senior England players shouldn’t take part out of the water. The talented midfielder is set for a busy summer, with the 23-year-old linked with moves to Liverpool and Manchester City.
7. Andrei Voronkov (Belarus)
Sort of two players to watch in one. He is also known as Andrey Varankow, so keep your eyes peeled for either. He’s a fully-fledged Belarus international and is on the books of Dynamo Kyiv. A tall striker, Voronkov will lead the line for his side and is probably their biggest goal-threat.
8. Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)
Tipped as the new Shevchenko, Yarmolenko can play on the left-wing or up front. He has three goals in eight internationals at senior level, but strangely he’s never found the net in 10 under 21 matches. We reckon the Dynamo Kyiv youngster will correct that during the tournament.
9. David de Gea (Spain)
His impending move to Manchester United is among football’s worst kept secrets. The 20-year-old looks like the man most likely to challenge Iker Casillas’ monopoly on the Spain goalkeeper’s jersey. He broke into the Atletico Madrid first-team aged just 18 and has never looked back.
10. Jordan Henderson (England)
A slight dip in form from the imperious performances that saw him earn an England cap has allowed Henderson to go about his work a bit more quietly in an under-performing Sunderland side. But his talents have not been forgotten. Liverpool are among the clubs bidding the best part of £20 million to secure the young midfielder’s services.
11. Gylfi Sigurdsson (Iceland)
Iceland’s big hope has travelled the not-so-well worn path from Reading to Hoffenheim. He caught the eye in early 2010 with a starring role in Reading’s FA Cup run and a goal against Liverpool. That summer he moved to Germany for a fee in excess of £6 million. He has just been named the Hoffenheim fans’ player of the season. Despite starting just 12 games, he weighed in with 10 goals and two assists.
12. Jan Morávek (Czech Republic)
The 21-year-old is an attacking midfielder with an eye for goal. On the books of German side Schalke, Morávek has found the net for them and also Bundesliga rivals Kaiserslauten, where he has enjoyed a loan spell this season.
13. Iker Muniain (Spain)
Diminutive in stature, feisty by nature and skilful on the ball, Muniain is usually in the thick of the action one way or another. Touted by the Spanish as their homegrown Messi, big things are expected of the Athletic Bilbao youngster. He is still only 18, despite making his La Liga debut two seasons ago.
14. Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)
The Kosovo-born midfielder made his debut against England earlier this month. For an 18-year-old going up against the likes of Frank Lampard and Scott Parker, he did pretty well. Like Shaqiri, the FC Basel man is set to become one of the cornerstones of a golden period for Swiss football.
15. Thomas Delaney (Denmark)
Doesn’t sound very Danish, does he? That would be the American parentage. Aged 19, Delaney probably wouldn’t have quite made the cut, but for a couple of the Danish big-guns being withdrawn from the tournament by their clubs. In steps the Copenhagen midfielder to join the hosts’ squad with the script already written for him.
16. Taras Stepanenko (Ukraine)
The Shakhtar Donetsk holding midfielder has already graduated to Ukraine’s senior squad. He had been an injury doubt for the tournament, but will now captain the side. Ukraine coach Pavlo Yakovenko describes him as a “key figure”.
17. Javi Martinez (Spain)
World Cup winner number two. The Athletic Bilbao midfielder’s cameo in South Africa was limited to a few minutes against Chile, but he still has the medal. The 22-year-old has just signed a new deal with his club side, which they hope will keep the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City at bay.
18. Chris Smalling (England)
The 21-year-old centre-back has been a surprise hit during his first season at Manchester United. Called upon more regularly than expected due to injuries in United’s defensive ranks, Smalling has always looked assured. His meteoric rise from non-league football continues. He will be looking to prove he is ready to be capped at full international level.
19. Johann Gudmundsson (Iceland)
On the books of Chelsea and Fulham as a kid, Gudmundsson has settled in Holland with AZ Alkmaar. His six goals in nine qualifying matches have propelled Iceland to the tournament. They will be looking for more of the same from him.
20. François Affolter (Switzerland)
Yet another of the young Swiss stars already gaining recognition in the senior squad. The Young Boys Berne defender has four caps to his name and will be a key player at the back for Switzerland. Despite being just 20-years-old, he has three years of first-team club experience under his belt.
21. Dmitri Rekish (Belarus)
The left-sided midfielder plies his trade in Poland with Polonia Warszawa. He was on target in an under 21 international against Spain in March and poses a threat down the flank.
Feel free to add your own tips of players you think we should watch out for during the competition in the comments section below.