Four players to watch at 2019 UEFA Under-21 European ChampionshipPublished on: June 6, 2019Author: Jamie Clark
The UEFA Under-21 European Championship can give football fans an extra slice of La Dolce Vita as Italy hosts the 12-team tournament that runs for two weeks from Sunday, 16 June.
This event has in recent years helped to launch the careers of Alvaro Morata, David de Gea, William Carvalho and others.
Many of the leading football nations in Europe have qualified for the finals, so that means more top talent will be on show.
Who should you look out for at the 2019 UEFA Under-21 European Championship? Here are four players in particular that show plenty of promise.
Sandro Tonali (Italy)
Just 19 years old and already drawing comparisons with Azzurri playmaking icon Andrea Pirlo. No pressure, then.
Sandro Tonali graduated from the same youth setup as the Italian midfield great at Brescia, and this tournament could be something of a shop window for him.
Azzurri senior national boss Roberto Mancini is keeping tabs on him after handing Tonali a maiden call-up last November.
It’s at Under-21 level where he’s plying his trade right now yet, provided he continues to improve, he’ll be a full international soon enough.
Unlike more established players including Davide Calabria, Patrick Cutrone, Manuel Locatelli and Rolando Mandragora, Tonali has only played in Serie B but Brescia won that league and promotion to Serie A for next season.
Whether he stays put or moves on, top flight football beckons in future. Tonali is of course an effective deep-lying midfielder that has come from the Under-19s into Italy’s Under-21 squad.
He looks sure to add further caps at this tournament and beyond, so is definitely one to keep an eye on for the future.
Tournament hosts Italy have quite a challenging pool at these finals. Group A sees them tackle Spain, Poland and Belgium, so Tonali and other up-and-coming Azzurri prospects have their work cut out for them.
Luka Jovic (Serbia)
What a terrific season Bosnia-born striker Luka Jovic had with Eintracht Frankfurt.
He fired the Bundesliga outfit to the Europa League semi-finals and to a seventh place finish domestically with 27 strikes in all competitions.
Only Robert Lewandowski and Paco Alcacer scored more goals in the German top flight than Jovic, and his exploits at Frankfurt have already resulted in a big money move to Real Madrid for next season.
It was smart business taking at least tenfold profit after only just buying him permanently from Benfica in April. Jovic has thus enjoyed a meteoric rise.
Replacing Cristiano Ronaldo at the Bernabeu is no mean feat, but it may be that Madrid go about doing this collectively rather than bringing such pressure to bear on one player.
Forwards from the former Yugoslavia have been real successes at Los Blancos in the past. Davor Suker and Predrag Mijatovic both joined Madrid in the summer of 1996, and helped the club to La Liga and Champions League triumphs in consecutive seasons.
There’s no doubt Jovic is one of the most exciting prospects that independent Serbia has ever had.
He was backup to Aleksandar Mitrovic in the senior squad at the last World Cup in Russia, while for the Under-21s he’s struck seven times in 14 caps.
If his fine form, which saw him score home and away against Chelsea in the Europa semis, continues on international duty, then Jovic is going to take some stopping.
Serbia will fancy their chances of advancing from Group B which also contains Germany, Denmark and Austria.
Dayot Upamecano (France)
Here’s a curious fact for you. France Under-21 centre back Dayot Upamecano has never played a senior game in the country of his birth, but earned rave reviews in the Bundesliga with RB Leipzig this season.
Like many of the players on show at this tournament, Upamecano has come through the various age ranks up to this level. He was part of Les Bleus’ Under-17 side that were crowned European champions in 2015.
At a time when France senior national boss Didier Deschamps may be looking to bring in fresh faces on the road to Euro 2020, Upamecano is being linked with moves to some of Europe’s top clubs.
For now though, he must content himself with marshalling the Under-21s defence at this tournament.
Upamecano has heritage from Guinea-Bissau, so France will probably take a look at him sooner or later. As with Tonali, this has the potential to be a shop window.
Leipzig have cashed in on previous hot prospects like Naby Keita and Oliver Burke, and a good showing from France who face England, Romania and Croatia in Group C here could see genuine interest in Upamecano materalise.
Nikola Vlasic (Croatia)
Did you know that Everton-owned attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic is the younger brother of dual women’s world high jump champion Blanka? Sport clearly runs in this Croatian family.
Vlasic has just finished a loan spell with Russian Premier League heavyweights CSKA Moscow, scoring eight goals and making seven assists in all competitions.
The Toffees have hopefully taken notice of those displays as on average he either struck or set one up for a teammate every other game.
Croatia’s Under-21 skipper Alen Halilovic occupies similar areas to Vlasic, but his temporary stint at Standard Liege in Belgium didn’t pull up any trees.
Midfield looks a particularly strong area for the Blazers in this age bracket, which also reflects the senior side.
Whether any of these, Vlasic included, can go on to have the success that the likes of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic have enjoyed remains to be seen.
What’s great about Group C is viewers will get to see repeats of the World Cup semi and final from last summer, only with Under-21s.
England obviously bring strength-in-depth to the table too, so Croatia can’t expect to have it all their own way.
This pool is by far the most fascinating on paper and Vlasic will be looking to add to five Under-21 goals from 15 caps despite the tough opposition.