5 June 2013

2013 European Under-21 Championship preview

For the next two weeks, Israel is the place to be for the European Under-21 Championship.

Eight teams, featuring some of the best young players on the continent, will battle it out for the right to lift the trophy in Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium (which I am fairly sure is NOT named after Teddy Sheringham) on 18 June.

To be eligible for these championships, players must be born on or after 1 January 1990. That means we've got a few 23-year-olds in an Under-21s tournament, but them's the rules.

After winning promotion with Crystal Palace, will Wilf Zaha be triumphant again?
GROUP A
ISRAEL
These will be Guy Luzon's last matches as Israel Under-21s boss before he heads off to Belgium to manage Standard Liege. A number of his players have featured for the senior national team, including captain Nir Biton, fellow midfielder Eyal Golasa, and defender Omri Ben Harush. But in such a difficult group, it's hard to see the hosts picking up points from more than one match.
Prediction: 4th in Group.
ENGLAND
Stuart Pearce is managing England for a fourth European Championship, but can they go a step further than 2009, when they were runners-up? With the exciting attacking talent of Wilfried Zaha and an improved defence that includes centre-back Steven Caulker and keeper Jack Butland, anything's possible. There's no wow factor, though, and that - I think - is the difference between success and failure.
Prediction: Semi Finals.
NORWAY
I've got a feeling that, if Norway win their opening game against the hosts, they can be dark horses. A few of their players will be familiar to British fans, like Thomas Rogne and Joshua King, but one man that catches my eye is the Norwegian Iniesta - Harmeet Singh, a veteran of 35 Under-21s internationals. I don't think this team will be short on goals or ability.
Prediction: 3rd in Group.
ITALY
Young coach Devis Mangia took charge in the closing stages of the qualifying campaign, and he has such a strong attacking force to work with. Ciro Immobile is anything but, and Mattia Destro is already an Italian senior international, as is their midfielder Marco 'Sinead O'Connor' Verratti. I'm a bit concerned, though, about a defence that has limited Serie A experience.
Prediction: Runners-Up.

Iker Muniain looks like a young Fernando Torres - can he score like him?
GROUP B
SPAIN
Julen Lopetegui has so much talent to choose from that the players he DIDN'T pick could have been a real force at this championship. Among those he did select are midfielder Thiago Alcantara, forward Iker Muniain, and Manchester United's David de Gea, who all won the 2011 tournament in Denmark and are back for one more time. Will La Furia Roja rule once again?
Prediction: CHAMPIONS.
HOLLAND
At least one major giant is destined to be knocked out in this group, and sadly, it could be the Dutch. This team doesn't have the exceptional talents that the 2006 and 2007 winners boasted, even if their defence is slightly stronger thanks to Stefan de Vrij and Ricardo van Rhijn. AZ Alkmaar midfielder Adam Maher will be absolutely key in deciding their ultimate fate.
Prediction: 3rd in Group.
RUSSIA
Russia have perhaps the oldest squad (just three players are also eligible for Euro 2015), and I think it's the weakest. They do have two players at big Iberian clubs, but neither striker Denis Cheryshev of Real Madrid nor Braga goalkeeper Stanislav Kritsyuk have pulled up any trees. Their one genuine star is Alan Dzagoev, who did so well in the big boys' Euros last summer.
Prediction: 4th in Group.
GERMANY
We all want to play like Germany right now, but can Rainer Adrion win the first of perhaps many trophies for the Mannschaft over the next few years? Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Lewis Holtby is the captain, and one of two squad members based outside Germany, the other being Everton alumni Shkodran Mustafi. I can't wait to see Bernd Leno, though - he's apparently yet another brilliant Kraut keeper.
Prediction: Semi Finals.

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