With the European U21 Championships starting tonight, here are five players for football fans around the globe should keep their eyes on.
Alan Dzagoev | Russia
Alan Dzagoev shot to stardom during Euro 2012 in Poland/Ukraine when he became joint-top goalscorer of the competition. At the tender age of 20, Dzagoev, has already received 27 full international caps for the Russian national team, and has been an influential figure.
The CSKA Moscow midfielder is also a renowned goalscorer, offering another dimension and attacking presence to his game. As an attacking midfielder, few players are as accomplished with ball at feet as this player.
At such a young age his dribbling skills are as developed as some of footballs best wingers. However, criticism have been raised over the player's temperament, after two red cards this season and a ban from club side CSKA Moscow for swearing at his manager.
Despite that he’s one of Europe’s finest young prospects and he will be sure to light up this year’s European U21 Championship.
Wilfried Zaha | England
It's been a long time since England carried a talismanic character into the U21 Championships, but this year sees young Wilfried Zaha take to the big stage.
Zaha single-handedly carried Crystal Palace into the Barclays Premier League this season after a campaign full of outstanding performances.
The 20-year-old scored six goals and provided 10 assists this season. His dazzling array of skills, fantastic dribbling and lightening speed make him one of England’s brightest prospects.
Although, the Englishmen has still got some work to do to convince Manchester United fans of his capabilities, this represents the perfect environment to prove not just to Red Devils' fans how good he is, but the whole of Europe as well.
Thiago Alcantara | Spain
Thiago goes into the competition with a lot to prove amid all the speculations surrounding his future at Barcelona.
It could be an opportunity for the La Masia graduate to prove his worth to his club.
Thiago has similar abilities to one you’d expect to have from a player that came from the famous La Masia academy, one that is well accomplished in possession and has great composure on the ball with a fantastic array of vision and passing abilities.
This makes him suitable for the role as a deep-lying playmaker and his why people surround the Camp Nou feel that he’s the ideal candidate to be Xavi’s successor.
Marco Verratti | Italy
It’s difficult to believe that Marco Verratti has only just turned 20, yet he’s made over 100 league appearances and plied his trade in two different countries, won two domestic titles and made nine Champions League appearances last season, impressing against Barcelona.
Verratti was an integral part of PSG’s domestic success this season. The Italian has typically operated in the role as a deep-lying playmaker and that has inevitably drawn comparisons with Italian legend Andrea Pirlo. His ability to make the key pass and put the ball on a tee for others is second to none.
This summer Verratti will be expected to control and dominate the midfield, allowing the likes of Alessandro Florenzi, Riccardo Saponara and Lorenzo Insigne to roam forward.
Kevin Strootman | Netherlands
Aged 23, Strootman will look to be an influential leader of the Dutch national side. This is a role that should come natural to him as he already captained the senior side on a number of occasions.
Strootman enters the competition as one of the Dutch squad qualified players actually over the age of 21.
With that being said, he is one of world football's most underrated box-to-box midfielders. Effective on both ends of the pitch the Dutchmen offers a fantastic energy to his game.
This, combined with his on-the-ball and off-the-ball runs, make him hard to track and a vital asset to the team. Although he’s fantastically versatile and can easily take the role as a deep-lying playmaker.
Like Thiago Alcantara, Strootman will be looking to make a real name for himself in this year’s competition, with some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs after his signature.
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