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European Under-21 Championship preview

Majid Mohamed

Eriksen 238x300 European Under 21 Championship preview

The 2011 Uefa European Under-21 Championship in Denmark gets underway this weekend with eight teams hoping to be crowned champions of Europe.

The host nation who qualified automatically will be joined by England, Spain, Czech Republic, Iceland, Belarus, Switzerland and Ukraine.

Holders Germany miss out along with perennial European giants Italy, France, the Netherlands and previous hosts Sweden after they all failed to qualify for the finals. In 2009 the likes of Mesut Özil, Sami Khedira, Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boating, Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen impressed and became regulars at senior level.

The hosts Denmark face Switzerland in the evening game on Saturday whilst Belarus take on Iceland in the first game of the day in Group A. The following day in Group B, Czech Republic’s opening game will be against Ukraine before the big game in the evening as England play favourites Spain.

England have been touted as second favourites behind Spain but will need to be wary of the Czech Republic who were undefeated in the qualifying stage and managed to score 25 goals. All three sides find themselves in Group B together alongside Ukraine.

Micah Richards, Kieran Gibbs, Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll pulled out of Stuart Pearce’s provisional 40-man squad for various reasons. Michael Mancienne, Fabrice Muamba and Jack Rodwell will once again compete in this tournament after playing in the final against Germany two years ago, as England lost 4-0. There will be extra attention on expensive signings Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones from the media which could prove a hindrance.

Spain can rely on Fifa World Cup winners Javi Martínez of Athletic Bilbao and Valencia’s Juan Mata. The midfield duo play regularly for their clubs in La Liga and would command large transfer fees should they leave their respective clubs. The likes of Diego Capel, César Azpilicueta, David de Gea, Javi Martínez, Iker Muniain and Roma bound striker Bojan Krkić are also part of a strong squad.

Denmark were dealt a blow as senior international Simon Kjær was refused permission to participate by Wolfsburg. The hosts can at least rely on Christian Eriksen, pictured, of Ajax. Eriksen is touted as  one of Europe’s most gifted youngsters and will hope to continue the form with which he helped Ajax win the Eredivisie title this season. The teenage prodigy will be watched closely by a host of scouts as the play-maker continues to impress.

The Czech Republic are aiming to win their second Under-21 European Championship but face a good Ukraine side in their opening game. Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Tomas Pekhart and defender Marek Suchý both have experience playing for the seniors. Coach Pavlo Yakovenko has picked a number of  senior Ukraine internationals in his squad. Highly rated Dynamo Kiev striker Andriy Yarmolenko will be relied upon. Ukraine beat the Netherlands in the play-offs to reach these finals.

Switzerland have selected senior internationals including Xherdan Shaqiri and recently capped midfielder Granit Xhaka, both of whom featured against England recently.

Iceland impressed on their route to the finals, scoring 33 goals including a thrashing of holders Germany in the group stage. Iceland possess the exciting striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson in their side. He has been linked with a move to Ajax from his current Eredivisie side AZ. Premier League clubs are rumoured to be interested in the teenager. Sigthorsson’s teammate Johann Gudmundsson and Hoffenheim midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson are also key players.

Belarus have suffered a blow as they lost striker Vladimir Yurchenko to injury. Yurchenko was the hero as his two goals helped his country overturn a 2-0 first-leg defeat as Belarus beat five-times champions Italy 3-0 at home to reach the finals.

The domestic football season may be over but this will be an intriguing chance to watch some competitive football, whilst it will also be a chance to watch the stars of the future progress.

Top talents: Players to watch

Christian Eriksen (Denmark) Classy play-maker, compared to countryman Michael Laudrup.

Juan Mata (Spain) Valencia winger, set to move this summer.

Iker Muniain (Spain) Teenage prodigy from Athletico Bilbao. The striker is already a regular starter in La Liga.

Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) FC Basel midfielder impressed in his senior debut against England at Wembley.

Gylfi Sigurdsson (Iceland) Former Reading set-piece specialist, now at Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga.

David de Gea (Spain) Manchester United bound Atletico Madrid goalkeeper, experienced at all youth levels.

Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) Already playing for senior side, has 11 caps and has scored against the senior England team.

Jordan Henderson (England) Liverpool’s new midfielder created the most chances for teammates in the Premier League last season.

Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (Iceland) Became only the second foreign player to score over four goals in a Dutch league game this season when he scored five in a 6-1 win for his team AZ.


Tournament Schedule

Group A

Belarus

Denmark

Iceland

Switzerland

Group B

Czech Republic

England

Spain

Ukraine

* The Uefa Under-21 European Championships final tournament consists of two groups of four, with the top two from each progressing to the semi-finals. This tournament also serves as qualification for the Olympic Football Tournament at London 2012. Matches from 11th June-25th June.

* Fixtures can be found here

Picture:Getty Images

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