The 2016 European Championships are already under way. Perhaps surprisingly, most of the games have been closely fought contests, with no team winning by more than two goals – the vast majority of games that have had a winner have been decided by one goal. However, despite the pressure, a number of young players have shined in the opening fixtures. Others may be lying in wait, ready to make an impact. In this article from our series on the Euros we look at the young prospects who may be worth a watch at the championships…
The Bayern Munich player (pictured) has looked one of the top prospects in Europe almost every time he has played this season. Full of skill and invention, he is a surprisingly well-rounded player for his age, 20, conserving the ball well and tracking back from his wing position when required. He delighted French fans in the match against Albania by performing a ‘Maradona’ pirouette, reminiscent of a certain other French player from the past…
Manchester United’s Martial has had few opportunities to really shine at the Euros so far, starting the first game on the bench and making way for the introduction of Paul Pogba at half time in the second. However, the cool-headed 20-year old is more than capable of performing on the big stage, emerging as one of the outstanding young players in his first season the Premier League at Manchester United. He is probably one of the fastest players at the Championships over 20 meters and has a eye for goal, so his moment may yet come.
Powerful, athletic and cool-headed, the Swiss international has all the attributes to succeed at the top level. He has featured in both of Switzerland’s opening games, adding speed and directness to the attack. Embolo scored only four minutes into his first team debut for FC Basel, aged just 17 years one month and two days and since has reportedly been scouted by a number of top clubs.
The Schalke player is regarded as one of the brightest young talents in Germany and has the potential to make an impact for club and country in the years ahead. He is unlikely to get too many minutes on the field during these European Championships but his speed, agility and stronger left foot means that he does offer Germany coach Joachim Low another option off the bench.
This season Draxler faced the tough task of replacing Kevin de Bruyne at Wolfsburg after the Belgian was transferred to Manchester City. However, the talented former Schalke player did so with aplomb, helping Wolfsburg through the group stages of the Champions League, past Ghent in the last-16 and to a 2-0 first leg win against Real Madrid in the quarterfinals (Real then beat them 3-0 in the second leg, later going on to win the final). An injury to Borussia Dortmund’s Marco Reus meant that a place opened up on the left wing of the Germany team, which Low has entrusted to Draxler, 22.
Rashford’s rise has been meteoric. Only half a season ago he was learning his trade in Manchester United’s youth team, a spate of injuries then giving him an opportunity in the first team. The 18 year-old well and truly seized his chance, going on to make 18 appearances and scoring eight goals in the second half of the season. With each game the young man from Manchester appeared to grow ever more assured, finally earning himself a place in Roy Hodgson’s England squad. Not long after he made his first appearance at an international Championships, coming off the bench in England’s win over Wales on Thursday (16 June).
Just one year and a half ago, Dele Alli was playing for MK Dons in League One, the third tier of English football. The young man’s confident performances earned him a transfer to Tottenham Hotspurs and he hasn’t looked back since, becoming a starter for the London club. Accomplished performances accompanied by some impressive statistics (10 goals and 12 assists in all competitions this season) earned the box-to-box midfielder not only a place in the England squad but in the starting line up. The 20 year-old is likely to continue to play a prominent role in the rest of England’s Euros campaign.
The Belgian is one of the more exciting young wingers in European football. Strong performances for Monaco saw him transferred to Atletico Madrid, where he has gone from strength to strength. This season he has brought vital pace and penetration to a team that plays a mostly defensive style of football. The 22 year-old has a good touch and is more than capable of beating an opponent, leading Marc Wilmots to give him his first start in competition against an Ireland team set up to defend.
The Croatian midfielders was nicknamed Il professore in Italy when he played for Internazionale, an impressive moniker for a man who was only in his early 20s. His excellent touch and passing ability earned him a transfer to Real Madrid last year, where he has had limited opportunities to thrive – perhaps not surprising as he would have to supplant compatriot Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Isco to secure a start. He featured in Croatia’s second game but faces tough competition for places in a midfield that includes Modric, Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic and Internationale’s Ivan Perisic. Still, he has the ability to make an impact yet in a strong Croatia team.
The young man from Portugal has managed to establish himself as one of the most promising midfielders in Europe despite playing in a struggling Valencia team this season – his first year at the club after a transfer from Benfica. Scouts from a number of top clubs are likely to be watching him at the Euros and he didn’t disappoint in the first game. Starting in midfield, Gomes was one of the few bright sparks in a somewhat pedestrian team performance, setting up Nani for Portugal’s only goal.
At only 18, Sanches had established himself as a regular starter for Benfica before he was transferred this summer to Bayern Munich. The fee, which starts at some €35m, made him one of the most expensive teenagers in history. He is a cool-headed all-round midfielder who likes a long shot at goal. At 18 years and 301 days, Sanches became the youngest player to play for Portugal at a major competition, eclipsing Cristiano Ronaldo, when he came on at half time in their first game. Athletic and strong for his age, he is likely to continue to play a significant role in the Euros.