The thrilling rollercoaster ride that was Euro 2016 may be all but a memory now to football fans who aren’t Portuguese, but not to worry: we can do it all again this summer with the Under-21 variation of the tournament.
For the past couple of years, nations from across the continent have been battling it out to qualify for the final competition, which will be hosted by Poland in June 2017, and now only an elite group of 12 teams remain. From the might of Germany to the flair of Spain, the very best will be represented.
1. Format of the European Under-21 Championship
This is worth knowing, because it will help to shape our quest in (hopefully) finding a tournament winner.
Qualification for the competition was straight forward enough: Poland go straight into the hat as hosts, along with the nine group winners from qualification (Portugal, Denmark, England, Slovakia, Germany, the Czech Republic, Sweden, Italy and Macedonia). The best four runners-up in qualifying met in a play-off round, and it was Spain and Serbia who prevailed.
So yes, that is correct, the likes of France, Belgium and the Netherlands have all failed to qualify.
The official draw has been made, and the teams will play each other in a standard round-robin format. The groups are as follows:
Group A: Poland, England, Sweden, Slovakia.
Group B: Portugal, Spain, Serbia and Macedonia.
Group C: Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, Denmark.
As you can see, that is three tough groups to try and predict, although clearly in Group B it is Spain and Portugal who have been handed the easiest draw.
Each of the group winners progresses straight through to the semi-finals, and they will be joined by the runner-up that gains the most points. The winners of those two matches will then meet in the final on June 30 in Krakow.
2. The History of the Euro U-21 Championship
It will presumably come as no surprise to learn that some of the very best players in world football have turned out in this tournament. Former ‘Golden Player’ award winners at the European Under-21 Championship include Andrea Pirlo, Luis Figo, Fabio Cannavaro, Davor Suker and Juan Mata, with inductees into the historical ‘Dream Team’ of players to feature in the event including Manual Neuer, Giorgio Chiellini, Mesut Ozil and Raul. Needless to say, this is a great place to spot the next generation of talent.
Typically, this is a tournament in which the cream rises to the top. Since 1992, Italy have won it five times, Spain three times, Holland twice and Germany once, with the Czech Republic and Sweden perhaps the only anomalies in 2002 and 2015 respectively.
The 2015 renewal perhaps offered up an insight as to how Euro 2016 would pan out, with Portugal eventually losing on penalties to the Czechs in the final.
3. Who will Win the 2017 European Under-21 Championship?
It looks a very difficult tournament to predict, with at least five teams having a genuine chance of lifting the trophy on June 30.
When the draw was made it was Portugal and Spain that really caught the eye in perhaps the easiest group, and while the Portuguese will be hoping to emulate the senior side’s heroics of 2016, the Spanish will be simply hoping to improve on a qualifying campaign in which they finished behind Sweden. They can call on the likes of Saul Niguez, Gerard Deulofeu, Marco Asensio and Denis Suarez, amongst others, and so must not be disregarded.
It was England that won the Toulon tournament of 2016 – a fantastic precursor to the Euros, and many of the same players will be involved in the summer. The English boast plenty of Premier League experience in Jordan Pickford, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Redmond, James Ward-Prowse and Demarai Gray, and they will be expected to go deep once again.
And how can we write off the Germans with their outstanding tournament pedigree? They reached the final of the 2016 Olympic Games – a tournament reserved for players under the age of 23, and have some outstanding talents at their disposal. They won all ten of their qualification games, and they really should be backed to win the 2017 European Under-21 Championship.
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