Luka Jovic to Moise Kean: 10 to watch at the Euro Under-21 Championship

We select potential stars of the tournament which begins on Sunday in Italy and San Marino

Jean-Philippe Mateta, France

Age 21 Position Striker Club Mainz

Having grown up on the outskirts of Paris, the forward, born to Congolese parents, struggled to find a club until joining Châteauroux aged 16. There he caught the attention of Lyon but made only two appearances for the Ligue 1 club before a prolific loan at Le Havre, which prompted Mainz to pay €8m last summer. He scored 14 goals to propel them to safety and will provide France’s firepower, alongside Moussa Dembélé and Marcus Thuram, son of the former defender Lilian. “JP always wants to work,” said Oswald Tanchot, his former coach. “Every morning, he would ask what he could do in addition to the day’s training.” At 6ft 4in, Mateta says his style is similar to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Dani Olmo, Spain

Age 21 Position Winger Club Dinamo Zagreb

There are no Barcelona players in Spain’s squad but in Olmo they possess a La Masia graduate. The Catalan joined Barça’s academy from Espanyol aged nine but left at 16 for a clearer route to first-team football and has made more than 100 senior appearances. “My former teammates were first shocked and then they understood my decision to move was the right one,” he said. He has won four league titles in five seasons in Croatia. A superb campaign, including 12 goals, culminated in Olmo winning the player of the year and young player of the year awards. Valencia, Milan, Bayer Leverkusen – and Barça – are reportedly keen.

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Phil Foden, England

Age 19 Position Midfielder Club Manchester City

After the Nations League semi-final there was a cry for a playmaker capable of transforming defence into attack for England; someone comfortable knitting together attacking phases, corkscrewing out of danger and pirouetting away from the opposition press. James Maddison, Mason Mount and Morgan Gibbs-White are gifted but there is a belief that Foden remains the country’s crown jewel. Pep Guardiola said Foden “will be an important player” for Manchester City “for the next decade” and everything points towards him being at the heart of things for his country, too.

Highs and (mainly) lows since 1994

The Under-21 European Championship began in 1978. England have won it twice – in 1982 and 1984 – but have not fared so well since Uefa introduced group stages at the 1994 finals.  

1994 England failed to qualify after finishing fourth in their group, six points behind winners Poland. 

1996 England again failed to make it, finishing second behind Portugal but missing out on one of the best runner-up places.  

1998 England won their qualifying group but had to face Greece in a play-off to reach the finals. They lost on away goals despite Emile Heskey (2), Michael Owen and Marcus Hall scoring in a 4-2 home win. 

2000 England qualified for the finals but failed to get out of the group despite a 6-0 win over Turkey. Frank Lampard, Danny Mills, Jamie Carragher and Danny Murphy were in the squad but the team lost to Italy and Slovakia. 

2002 England, under David Platt, finished last in their group despite winning their first game against Switzerland. Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch scored in that 2-1 win but defeats by Italy and Portugal followed. 

2004 England struggled in qualifying, finishing third, 11 points behind group winners Turkey. Joey Barton, Joe Cole and Phil Jagielka featured. 

2006 Another failure to get to the finals, this time with Peter Taylor as coach. After finishing second behind Germany, England lost 3-2 to France in a play-off. 

2007 The tournament switched to odd years and England reached the semi-finals, where they lost 13-12 in a shootout to hosts the Netherlands. Anton Ferdinand missed the decisive penalty. 

2009 England again got to the semi-finals and this time won the shootout, against Sweden, Kieran Gibbs converting the last penalty. In the final Stuart Pearce’s team lost 4-0 to Germany.  

2011 England drew with eventual winners Spain in the group and picked up another point against Ukraine before conceding two late goals against the Czech Republic to go out. Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck were in the team. 

2013 England finished bottom of their group behind Italy, Israel and Norway despite having Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley.  

2015 Gareth Southgate was in charge but again England finished last in their group, despite beating Sweden in their second game after a goal from Jesse Lingard. 

2017  After Southgate was appointed manager of the senior side, Aidy Boothroyd took over as U21 manager. Jordan Pickford, Ben Chilwell, Nathan Redmond and Jack Grealish were part of the England squad that reached the semi-final, where they lost 4-3 on penalties to Germany. Kathryn Batte

Jonathan Tah, Germany

Age 23 Position Defender Club Bayer Leverkusen

Stefan Kuntz’s reigning champions boast 1,310 Bundesliga appearances (and 83 goals), with Tah among the most experienced in the 23-man squad, having amassed more than 100 starts for Leverkusen. The 6ft 5in centre-back has been destined for big things since his Hamburg debut aged 17 but Leverkusen’s sporting director, Rudi Völler, said last year: “He has surpassed all expectation and now ranks as one of Germany’s best defenders.” Along with RB Leipzig’s Lukas Klostermann, Tah has been on the fringes of Joachim Löw’s senior squad. Made his senior debut against England before being named in the Euro 2016 squad.

Moise Kean, Italy

Age 19 Position Striker Club Juventus

Has drip-fed his stardust but no one doubts his quality. He is the most exciting teenager on the Serie A scene for years and it is sad that the embryonic stages of his career have been overshadowed by monkey noises and other racial slurs. Kean, born to Ivorian parents, admirably confronted the racists in Cagliari’s Curva Nord and went on to score in consecutive games, including the winner against Milan. He joined Juve from Torino at 14 and made his league debut at 16, six months before becoming the first player born this millennium to score in one of Europe’s top five leagues. He is at the forefront of a squad teeming with talent, including Nicolò Zaniolo, the Roma midfielder called up to the senior squad before making his under-21s bow.

Luka Jovic, Serbia

Age 21 Position Striker Club Real Madrid

Real Madrid’s new striker needs no introduction after a stellar season of 17 goals in the Bundesliga for Eintracht Frankfurt and another 10 in the Europa League. Quick, powerful and with an eye for goal that persuaded the 13-times European champions to shell out €60m, Jovic has scored twice in six appearances for Serbia’s senior side but in the next few weeks in Italy and San Marino will form a potentially lethal attacking duo with his former Benfica teammate Andrija Zivkovic.

Joachim Andersen, Denmark

Age 23 Position Defender Club Sampdoria

The towering defender has been turning heads in Italy with assured displays for Sampdoria’s and is expected to recover from injury for Denmark’s opening fixture against Germany. Andersen has a reputation as a ball-playing defender capable of launching attacks from deep in his own half with his excellent passing – attributes that have reportedly attracted interest from Arsenal. He and the Genk striker Marcus Ingvartsen will need to be at their best if Denmark are to reach the last four for the third time.

Kevin Danso, Austria

Age 20 Position Defender Club Augsburg

Born in Austria to Ghanaian parents but raised in Milton Keynes from the age of six, Danso moved to Augsburg as a teenager in 2014 and has become a regular in the German top flight. He spent three years playing with Dele Alli at MK Dons but rejected approaches from England’s youth sides in favour of the land of his birth and was rewarded with a first senior cap two years ago. Danso is comfortable in midfield but is expected to form a defensive partnership with the former Real Madrid player Philipp Lienhart. Austria’s coach, Werner Gregoritsch, can call on three others with senior caps: Stefan Posch, Xaver Schlager and Hannes Wolf.

Dodi Lukebakio, Belgium

Age 20 Position Forward Club Watford

The gangly winger spent last season on loan at Fortuna Düsseldorf, where he scored 10 goals in 22 starts, including two against Bayern Munich. Lukebakio made one appearance for the Democratic Republic of the Congo three years ago in a friendly but switched to Belgium’s youth sides after coming through Anderlecht’s youth system. “He’s so unpredictable with his pace and dribbling,” Fortuna’s coach, Friedhelm Funkel, said. Watford may call on him next season, depending on his performances with Belgium. The dark horses’ other notable players include the striker Siebe Schrijvers and the 17-year-old midfielder Yari Verschaeren.

Dodi Lukebakio, right, is described as ‘so unpredictable with his pace and dribbling’.
Dodi Lukebakio, right, is described as ‘so unpredictable with his pace and dribbling’. Photograph: Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Josip Brekalo, Croatia

Age 20 Position Forward Club Wolfsburg

Started Croatia’s victory over Wales in the Euro 2020 qualifiers and has been tipped as the brightest of their new generation. Comfortable on either flank, Brekalo made an instant impact on his senior debut against Spain in November’s Nations League meeting when he set up the winner before playing the second half against England. “It is an indescribable feeling,” he said, “because one minute I was a hardcore fan, who always followed the national team on my feet with all my energy, sometimes out of control through emotions, and the next moment I am standing on iconic Wembley in front of the same people who I shared the stands with.” Croatia also have the powerful Marseille defender Duje Caleta-Car, Everton’s Nikola Vlasic and the former Barcelona player Alen Halilovic and could take some stopping.