European Under-21 Championship potential stars: Moise Kean, Phil Foden, Pablo Fornals, Luka Jovic
Italy have a striker who claims to “steal secrets” from Cristiano Ronaldo. Serbia have a forward who has just joined Real Madrid for £50m. Romania have the son of one of their greatest-ever players.
The European Under-21 Championship, which begins on Sunday and runs until 30 June, is brimming with big names – and that is before we even get to mentioning England talents such as Phil Foden, James Maddison and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
Hosts Italy, defending champions Germany, England, France and Spain among the teams in action – and there are plenty of players to look out for, from the big names to the emerging talents ready to make a mark.
Moise Kean (Italy)
Juventus forward Moise Kean, 19, comes into the tournament on the back of his major breakthrough season. The quick teenager had a glorious run of scoring in six consecutive games for club and country – as he netted in his first two senior caps for Italy in March.
His goal against Finland in a Euro 2020 qualifier made him the youngest player to score a competitive goal for the Azzurri.
Kean is not short on confidence – taking inspiration from Juve team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, of whom he said in March: “I learn from Cristiano Ronaldo, in training, I steal his secrets.”
He is one of eight senior internationals in Italy’s Under-21 squad, including Roma midfielders Lorenzo Pellegrini and Nicolo Zaniolo, Cagliari’s Nicolo Barella, AC Milan striker Patrick Cutrone and Fiorentina forward Federico Chiesa.
Phil Foden (England)
You have to be special to make 26 first-team appearances for Manchester City in a domestic treble-winning season. And 19-year-old Phil Foden is just that.
He scored seven goals this season – including the only strike in an important Premier League win over Tottenham in April.
Boss Pep Guardiola says attacking midfielder Foden “will be an important player for the next decade” for City – and has been compared to Xavi and Andres Iniesta by BBC pundit Pat Nevin.
Foden – named the best player at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup in 2017 – is again likely to be crucial to England’s hopes.
Premier League names in Aidy Boothroyd’s England squad include Crystal Palace defender Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Leicester midfielder James Maddison, as well as Arsenal’s Reiss Nelson – who scored seven Bundesliga goals on loan at Hoffenheim last season.
Pablo Fornals (Spain)
One of the oldest players in the tournament at 23, Spain attacking midfielder Pablo Fornals completed a £24m move to West Ham on the eve of the competition.
Fornals – who has won two senior caps for Spain – scored five goals and assisted another six for Villarreal last season. He already has plenty of top-level experience, having made 129 La Liga appearances for Malaga and the Yellow Submarine.
He has been described by Spanish journalist Guillem Balague as an “advanced playmaker or inside forward, where he can hurt teams with his vision, his passing and his dribbling”.
Real Madrid midfielder Dani Ceballos, club-mate Jesus Vallejo and Napoli’s Fabian Ruiz are among the other experienced players in the squad.
Luka Jovic (Serbia)
Arguably the most feared striker in the entire tournament will be Serbia’s Luka Jovic, who has just joined Real Madrid for a fee in excess of £50m.
The 21-year-old scored 27 goals in 48 games for German side Eintracht Frankfurt this season, including five goals in a Bundesliga game against Fortuna Dusseldorf. He was named in Uefa’s Europa League squad of the season after scoring 10 goals during their run to the semi-finals.
Real Madrid president Florentino Perez referred to the former Benfica player – who scored in a recent Euro 2020 qualifier for Serbia – as “one of the greatest goalscorers in Europe”.
Jonathan Tah (Germany)
Almost making a mockery of a youth tournament, Germany defender Jonathan Tah is a 23-year-old senior international who has already played 185 club games.
At almost 6ft 5in, the Bayer Leverkusen centre-back is a towering presence and won his sixth senior cap in the recent Euro 2020 qualifier against Belarus, alongside another defender in the Under-21 squad, Lukas Klostermann.
Other Bundesliga regulars in the squad include Borussia Dortmund midfielder Mahmoud Dahoud, Hoffenheim’s Nadiem Amiri and Werder Bremen forward Johannes Eggestein.
Moussa Dembele (France)
France have plenty of talented youth internationals, as you might expect.
Lyon striker Moussa Dembele, 22, is likely to be a frontrunner to win the Golden Boot. He joined the French side from Celtic last summer, scored 15 Ligue 1 goals and is being been linked with bigger clubs.
Other players who could star at Euro 2019 are Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi, Lyon’s Houssem Aouar and RB Leipzig defender Dayot Upamecano.
Dodi Lukebakio (Belgium)
One of Belgium’s likely stars is a Watford player, yet not many Premier League fans will have heard of him.
Dodi Lukebakio, now 21, played just 15 minutes for the Hornets following a move from Anderlecht before they loaned him out to Fortuna Dusseldorf. He scored 14 times last season, including a memorable hat-trick against Bayern Munich and a strike which helped inflict Borussia Dortmund’s first league defeat. of the season in December.
He won one senior cap for DR Congo in 2016 before declaring for the land of his birth.
Another player hoping to catch the eye is 17-year-old Anderlecht midfielder Yari Verschaeren, who played 22 first-team games this season. Verschaeren is the only player in the tournament under the age of 19.
Jacob Bruun Larsen (Denmark)
Denmark have produced plenty of star attacking midfielders and wingers in the past, and Borussia Dortmund’s Jacob Bruun Larsen is another.
The 20-year-old played 30 times for the Bundesliga runners-up last season, although was left in the shade by team-mate Jadon Sancho.
On the opposite wing is likely to be Robert Skov, who scored 32 goals in all competitions this season for FC Copenhagen.
Ianis Hagi (Romania)
Whatever playmaker Ianis Hagi does in his career, he is always likely to be best known as Romania legend Gheorghe Hagi’s son.
But the 20-year-old – who has won three senior caps – is an outstanding creative midfielder in his own right. Hagi Jr has scored direct from corners and has good dribbling skills.
He had a spell at Fiorentina but in 2018 rejoined Viitorul Constanta, a club formed, owned and managed by his dad.
How does the European Under-21 Championship work?
There are three groups of four teams. The top team in each group and the best runner-up go into the semi-finals – and also earn a place in the Olympics.
If England – who are not eligible for the Olympics – reach the semi-finals, the other two runners-up will play off for the Tokyo 2020 spot.
Most of the games are being played in Italy, although San Marino hosts three Group C games – including Croatia v England.
Group A: Italy, Spain, Belgium, Poland,
Group B: Germany, Denmark, Serbia and Austria
Group C: England, France, Romania, Croatia