Eye-catching performers


The group stages of the European Under 21s championships has drawn to a close, with Switzerland, Belarus, Spain and the Czech Republic being the four countries to qualify for the semifinals. Switzerland as group A winners will be taking the Czechs while the winners of group B, Spain, face Belarus. So far there has been plenty of great games, goals and certain individual performances that we’ve seen in the tournament.

Here, I’ve picked out certain players that have been particularly impressive in the twelve games played to date.

Nicolai Jorgensen celebrates his wonder goal vs Belarus

Denmark’s Nicolai Jorgensen has been one of the host nation’s best players in the competition. Unlucky not to qualify for the semis, Denmark still played out probably the game of the tournament so far versus Iceland. Jorgensen himself has played as a winger and up front at different stages in the team’s three games, and has increased the stock in himself with some great goals and performances for Denmark.

The twenty year old has shown his ability to dance around players and attack the goal, as well as having excellent controlled turns in his game when trying to run by players or create space for a pass or shot. The Bayer Leverkusen player also scored one of the best contenders for goal of the tournament against Belarus, while ensuring the win in that particular game in doing so. Earlier in the game he also won a penalty that lead to his side’s first goal, in the 2-1 defeat of Belarus.

Meanwhile, Belarus are semifinalists this year, largely with thanks to their goalkeeper Aleksandr Gutor. In defeats to Switzerland and Denmark, the twenty-two year old was unable to do anything about four particular goals his side conceded and wasn’t at fault for the losses. But in the opening match of the competition, his Belarus team were underdogs against Iceland. The Iceland team dominated for most of the match but Gutor managed to make a number of saves while one on one with Icelandic forwards. He kept his side level in the game and later, his strikers were able to snatch two goals to earn the only three points the team got in the group stages, and qualified after beating Iceland on the head-to-head rule. Gutor currently plays for FC BATE Borisov in the Belarusian Premier League.

Switzerland are the only team to qualify for the semifinals with a 100% record, and they’ve done it in very impressive style. Midfielder Granit Xhaka has been a shining light in the Swiss team. Only 18 years of age, Xhaka is also a full international for the Switzerland senior team, after he played the full 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw against England at Wembley Stadium. Xhaka’s energy and vibrancy was seen in full effect when winning the ball from the Belarus defence with some quick pressing very high up the pitch. It was his winning of possession that directly lead to Switzerland’s second goal of the game to almost put the victory beyond doubt.

Lukás Váchais a Czech winger/midfielder that has also made something of a name for himself in this competition. Vácha has showed so far that he’s a player that likes to get the ball on the ground and pass it well, while always looking to push forward and attack. Always a threat that the Czech team poses, Vácha will probably have an important role in the Czech Republic’s semi final against Switzerland.

Thiago slides a through ball to a team mate

Spain seem to be the standout team of the tournament so far, and were the bookies’ favourites for glory before the competition began. And it’s so easy to see why. The Spanish Under 21 team are just a younger version of the senior team, and the talent of that world cup winning side is well known. It’s very difficult to choose who is outstanding in the Spain team – Didac Vilá, Adrian, Iker Muniain, Javi Martinéz and plenty others would be easy to write about, and another day could have been the exact player I picked out. But it’s Thiago Alcántara that seems to be the one who most makes them tick.

The Barcelona midfielder already has 14 appearances for his club and will no doubt be a first team name in the coming years for a long time. He is a typical Barcelona player in that he constantly moves throughout the midfield, searching for passes and then picking out wingers and strikers beautifully, or even playing it simple when needs be. Without the ball he offers no time for the opposition to think about what they’re doing, as he presses so quickly in search for possession again. Expect Thiago to be a household name in the years to come, dictating Barcelona’s and Spain’s midfield in similar fashions to Xavi and Iniesta today.

Kyle Walker was probably England’s best player during their stay in Denmark. The right-back contributed to the team’s strong defence in conceding only one goal in two and 9/10ths matches, before their last-gasp collapse versus the Czech Republic. As well as this, Walker was also one of England’s most productive forces in going forward. It was he who created the equaliser against Spain, making a run and providing the pass for Welbeck to score.

The European Under 21s Championships is full of fantastic teams and players, more than worth watching. These players, and all of the others, will be enriched with international tournament experience and will have gained some excellent development for their careers. Many of them on show this summer will no doubt be household names in a matter of a couple of years and some will probably go on to win Champions Leagues and perhaps World Cups.

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