7 players to watch at the UEFA Under-21 Championship

Jay Ganglani
Jay Ganglani |

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Spain celebrate after winning the Under-21s European Championship in 2013.

The Under-21s European Championship begin midnight tonight, with an expanded 12 teams participating this season. Hosted by Poland, football fans will have the chance to cast their eyes on the sport’s next biggest stars as they prepare to showcase why they deserve a nod in the senior squad. Here are 7 wonderkids you should be paying extra attention to in this year’s tournament.

1. Renato Sanches (Portugal)

Portugal's midfielder Renato Sanches (R)
Photo: AFP

Renato Sanches was expected to be football’s next big star following his impressive performances during Euro 2016, which became a key factor for Portugal to go on to win the tournament. However, things didn’t really go to plan for the 19-year-old’s first season with German giants Bayern Munich. Could he rediscover his form at the Under-21 European Championship?

2. Marco Asensio (Spain)

Marco Asensio forced his way into the Real Madrid team this year, coming up with big goals in key games including this season’s Champions League final against Italian side Juventus. The future is bright for the silky 21-year-old attacking midfielder as he slowly nudges his way into the Spanish national team.

AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma saves a penalty.
Photo: AP

3. Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy)

Gianluigi Donnarumma recently announced that he will not be renewing his contract with Italian club AC Milan as he looks to pursue his career elsewhere. The 18-year-old Italian stopper will be looking to perform well at the Championships, because if he does, big name clubs will likely be interested in his services. With an impressive 75 per cent save percentage in the Serie A over the past 2 seasons, it’s not at all surprising.

4. Saul Niguez (Spain)

Saul, as he is more familiar known, currently plays for Spanish outfit Atletico Madrid and has come off another solid season, with the club finishing third in La Liga. The Spanish central midfielder will be aiming to bring his club form and contribute to the national side as they look to lift the trophy this time around.

Arsenal's Hector Bellerin in action.
Photo: EPA

5. Hector Bellerin (Spain)

Arsenal’s rocket full back, Hector Bellerin, will be looking for a solid Under-21s campaign with Spain as he sets his sights on breaking into the Spanish national team for the upcoming World Cup in 2018. Bellerin had a decent season with The Gunners and there are rumours of him looking to move away from the club.

6. Serge Gnabry (Germany)

Serge Gnabry will have eyes watching his every move as he joins up with the German Under-21s, This comes after Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich recently announced his transfer to the club, raising eyebrows as football fans wonder if his transformation from winger to striker has really taken effect.

7. Calum Chambers (England)

Calum Chambers had a much better season in the English Premier League after moving on loan to Middlesbrough from parent club Arsenal. The move allowed him more game time and an opportunity to develop as a first-team player. He has been rewarded with a place in the England Under-21s team this summer and will want to impress for a spot in next season’s Arsenal team.

So, who are you most excited to see during this summer’s Under-21 European Championship?

Edited by Andrew McNicol