European Under 21 Championships preview
European Under 21 Championships Preview by Mark Young
Stuart Pearce's England head to Denmark for the UEFA Under 21 championships which starts this weekend.
The competition held every two years has been a hotbed of quality youngsters in recent years. Mesut Ozil starred two years ago for Germany, where England were defeated 4-0 in the final. Since then he dazzled fans in South Africa and completed his first season following the big money move to Real Madrid. Mancini, Zidane, Voller, Suker, Figo, Raul, Lampard have all starred in the past - who will become the household name following this year's tournament?
England are 5/1 to win the tournament but will have a tough task just to get out of the group stage. They are in Group B with two other former winners. Their opener against 2/1 favourites Spain will be a huge battle is followed by 12/1 hopes Ukraine. Their final Group B match against the Czech Republic (11/2) will more likely be make-or-break. Group A is wide open and consists of rank outsiders Belarus (20/1), Iceland (8/1), Denmark (7/1) and Switzerland (15/2).
Spain have an exciting squad with Barcelona stars Thiago Alcantara, Jeffren Suarez and Bojan Krkic. Add to that the brilliant Iker Munain of Atheltic Bilbao, Diego Capel, Sergio Canales and the very interesting Juan Mata of Valencia. They are rightly the biggest threats to England and the favourites for the tournament.
There is a lot of pressure on this Spain side after the recent exploits of the senior team. They are looking unbeatable at present. When the current England senior side were struggling to a 2-2 Wembley draw with Switzerland because they were 'tired' the Spaniards were winning 4-0 in the United States with a team full of Barcelona players who comprehensively beat Manchester United in the Champions League Final at Wembley.
The tournament has been billed as a perfect opportunity for English players to get their hands on silverware. Jack Wilshere was named in Stuart Pearce's preliminary squad but it seemed as though he has given into Arsene Wenger's pressure to have a rest the youngster after a long season for both the Gunners and the senior squad. Wilshere will be a big miss for England as he has shown this year that he is one of the best rising talents in the world, in his position.
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Joe Hart and James Milner were all in the England squad in Sweden two years ago and the current crop of stars are looking to impress. Chelsea's Daniel Sturridge will be the main man in attack and leads the Top England Goalscorer market at 13/8 with Danny Welbeck at 15/8. Jorden Henderson, recently of Liverpool will be hoping to pull the strings in midfield. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will be marshalling the centre of defence. Scott Sinclair, fresh from a Wembley hat trick and 6/1 for Top England Goalscorer, will be hoping to take his season's form into the tournament.
Most of the pre-tournament talk in England has been about two huge transfers. Liverpool have signed Jordan Henderson for around £20 million from Sunderland and Manchester United are close to signing Phil Jones from Blackburn Rovers for around £15 million. The eyes of the footballing world will be watching these young players with a lot of expectation.
Whoever wins in Denmark is up in the air but one thing is for sure, we will be watching the future of European football. It would be no surprise to see the best players in this tournament light up the senior Championships in Poland and the Ukraine next summer just like Ozil, Figo and Casillas have all done in the past.