What happened last time?
The Under 21 Euros are held every two years, meaning the last one came in 2013, when the hosts were Israel. Spain were the winners with the likes of Alvaro Morata and Thiago Alcantara in their squad, beating Italy in the final to claim their fourth title. England had a poor tournament, crashing out at the group stage after losing all three games in Group B. It meant that Stuart Pearce departed his role of head coach of the Under 21s
Where is it and when will it take place?
This time around, the Czech Republic will host the tournament for the first time, with 15 games taking place between June 17th and June 30th. There are two groups of four, but defending champions Spain will not be present following their elimination in the qualification play-offs by Serbia.
Who are the favourites?
With plenty of top division experience in their squad, Germany are many people’s favourites to win the tournament because of the absence of Spain. Paddy Power have them at 7/4 to lift the trophy, and the Germans are in the arguably easier Group A. It is actually then England who are second favourites despite their disastrous 2013 tournament. The hype around many of the young lions is so strong that their odds are 9/2. After winning their last 10 games, Portugal have to be considered as potential winners and are third favourites at 6/1.
*All odds correct as of June 15th
Players to Watch
At an Under-21 Championship, the majority of players are ones to watch as huge prospects for the future, but here’s three that we could see winning the headlines over the next fortnight.
Harry Kane – England
The likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere may not have decided to go the Czech Republic, but man of the moment Harry Kane will be looking to set the tournament alight following a stunning breakthrough Premier League season. He became the first Tottenham player since Gary Lineker to net over 30 goals in one season, and finished only behind Sergio Aguero in the top division scoring charts. With a PFA Young Player of the Year Award under his belt, Kane will gain vital tournament experience this summer as many World Cups and European Championships beckon in the future.
Domenico Berardi – Italy
Although Domenico Berardi is a Juventus player, he has never featured for the Old Lady despite signing for them two seasons ago. He has instead made his name at Sassuolo, who he bagged 15 goals and 10 assists for last season. This included scoring all four goals in a 4-3 win over AC Milan, which instantly shot him to stardom. Berardi is versatile and has been deployed on either wing or through the centre as a striker or a second striker. If Juventus don’t give him his chance next season, you have to think another European superpower will come sweeping in.
Kevin Volland – Germany
With three senior caps already to his name, like Harry Kane, Kevin Volland will be using this tournament to gain vital experience. We know how many good young players Germany have been producing in recent years, and the Hoffenheim striker is the next hot prospect looking to conquer world football. Playing mainly as a number 10 and occasionally as a winger, Volland has got 28 goals and 16 assists in the last three seasons, and was actually included in Joachim Low’s preliminary squad for last summer’s World Cup. He will captain Germany in the Czech Republic and could well be lifting the trophy.
The Manager – Gareth Southgate
Following the end of Stuart Pearce’s six year reign, Gareth Southgate took the Under-21 manager’s job in August 2013 after a few years of media work. He seems to be thriving in the role and has been able to coach perhaps one of the best sets of English young players in recent times. Southgate guided the squad to qualification with ease, winning nine out of ten games (they drew the other one) and conceding just two goals. A medal for the 44 year old in the Czech Republic could be likely, but the question is, what colour?
Goalkeepers: Jack Butland (Stoke City), Jonathan Bond (Watford), Marcus Bettinelli (Fulham)
Defenders: Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal), Luke Garbutt (Everton), John Stones (Everton), Ben Gibson (Middlesbrough), Matt Targett (Southampton), Michael Keane (Burnley), Liam Moore (Leicester City), Calum Chambers (Arsenal)
Midfielders: Jake Forster-Caskey (Brighton & Hove Albion), Alex Pritchard (Tottenham Hotspur), James Ward-Prowse (Southampton), Tom Carroll (Tottenham Hotspur), Nathan Redmond (Norwich City), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Jesse Lingard (Manchester United), Will Hughes (Derby County), Ruben Loftus-Cheek (Chelsea)
Forwards: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Danny Ings (Liverpool), Saido Berahino (West Bromwich Albion)
The Star Player- Harry Kane
I know I’ve already mentioned him as one to watch, but it’s impossible to look past Harry Kane following the 2014-15 campaign he had. At the start of the season, he was a virtual unknown and behind Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor in the Tottenham pecking order. But by May, he had 31 goals in all competitions, two Player of the Month awards and the PFA Young Player of the Year accolade. To top it off, in March, Kane came off the bench to score within 80 seconds of his England senior debut against Lithuania. Without taking anything away from the other players in the squad, he is the reason that our chances at this tournament are so high.
England are in Group B, the arguably harder one out of the two. Three of the top four favourites with the bookies are in this group, which tells you all you need to know. Italy and Portugal have plenty of talent in their senior squad, and it’s the same at Under-21 level. As aforementioned, the former have Domenico Berardi in their squad and are the most successful team in the competition’s history, whilst the latter boast the likes of William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva, both of whom are being scouted by Europe’s elite. Sweden make up the group but will be fearing the worst, although we have seen international shocks before, and they have former Manchester City man John Guidetti in their squad.
18th June vs Portugal
21st June vs Sweden
24th June vs Italy
Can we win?
The fact that our odds are good despite being in a tough group, suggests that we do actually have a very good chance. We beat Germany 3-2 in a friendly back in March, showing that we can compete with the world’s best at Under-21 level, and there’s a huge amount of quality in the squad, so we’ve got every chance. It all depends where we finish in the group. If we win it, we are likely to face Denmark in the semi-finals. However if we finish second, tournament favourites Germany should be our last four opponents. But either way, making the final is not unrealistic. To answer the question: Can we win? Yes, quite possibly.
Why should I watch it?
For that exact reason. England may actually win an international tournament. We’re never going to win anything at senior level anytime soon, whilst although the women should do well at the World Cup, it’s unlikely they’ll win. But this Under-21 squad masterminded by Gareth Southgate have given themselves a great chance for success in the Czech Republic. Furthermore, the tournament as a whole is a great chance to watch the future of European football. These players will be lifting Champions Leagues (some already have) and senior international tournaments in 10 years’ time, and there will be huge quality on show. The enthusiasm and desire the youngsters have is something not always seen on the big stage. BT Sport are showing all the games live across two channels, so you’ll never miss a match.
I’m honestly not sure how this tournament will turn out. The possibility that England might win something seems incomprehensible, which is why I’m so hesitant to say that we could lift the trophy on June 30th. I also don’t want to get my hopes up, or anybody else’s, but there really is a big chance for a huge victory here, which boads well for the future. I’ve got to have some positivity, so I’ll say the young lions will win Group B with Italy in second, whilst Germany and Denmark will qualify from Group A. We should then beat the Scandinavians in the semi-final to set up a showpiece with Germany in Prague. But because it’s Germany and they always win, I’m going for Kevin Volland and co. to lift the trophy. Plus, there’s a high chance that the final might go to penalties, and we all know the outcome of that circumstance…
4th – Denmark
3rd – Italy
2nd – England
1st – Germany