European U-21 Championship 2021: Rosters and key players to look out for in Group D
The UEFA European Under-21 Championship begins today, with a lot of talented players competing against each other and drawing attention from clubs across Europe. Players born on or after 1 January 1998 are eligible to participate, while this edition of the tournament has been tweaked slightly due to the ongoing pandemic. It will be played through two international breaks, with the group stage between 24th March and 31st March, while the knockout phase will be played from 31st May till 6th June. 16 teams have been divided into four groups of four for this initial stage, and fans, scouts and talent spotters will have to watch the tournament on TV or online, since all games will be held behind closed doors.
This preview will give you some information about the squad rosters, expectations, key players, ones to watch and so on. This preview will be divided into four different pieces, with one for each group. As with every U-21 tournament, there have been a lot of squad changes and tweaks that have been seen during the qualification phase, while there are also several eligible players who will not be part of the tournament, since they have been called up to their senior national squads. We have accounted for some of these changes in our squad depth visuals, where some players may not be in their ‘natural’ positions, but rather in the positions where they have been used during the qualification phase, and where they are more likely to be played in the upcoming matches.
To read about other groups click on the links
Key players: Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ben Godfrey and Eddie Nketiah
Ones to watch: Max Aarons and Marc Guehi
Most valuable player: Callum Hudson-Odoi – €35 million
England have one of the most high-profile squads in this tournament, and therefore there are high expectations from this group. They are missing some key players – Reece James, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham have been called up to the senior side, while James Justin and Tariq Lamptey are injured, but even without these players, the Young Lions have a formidable squad to choose from.
Aaron Ramsdale will start between the posts, with Everton centre-back Ben Godfrey and Swansea’s Chelsea loanee Marc Guehi in front of him. At left-back, Ryan Sessegnon and Lloyd Kelly are the options in Justin’s absence. Sessegnon is a more offensive option, while Kelly is a more defensive player who can play at centre-back as well. Max Aarons is set to start at right-back and he could be one of the stars of the tournament if he can keep up the form he has shown for Norwich City in the Championship this season. We expect Curtis Jones and Tom Davies to start in midfield, but Oliver Skipp was used a lot during the qualifiers, and so he may come in instead as well. Emile Smith-Rowe and Eberechi Eze are the options in the number 10 position, while Chelsea winger Callum Hudson-Odoi could be another who can dominate this tournament; he will start on the right flank, with PSV Eindhoven youngster Noni Madueke acting as backup for him. Burnley winger Dwight McNeil is expected to be the first-choice left winger, with Norwich’s Todd Cantwell as his backup. Eddie Nketiah was lethal in the qualification rounds, and he will look to continue his goalscoring streak here as well, especially as he has found game time hard to come by for Arsenal this season, and he will therefore be motivated to prove his worth in his attempt to win the Golden Boot.
Key players: Lovro Majer, Nikola Moro, Domagoj Bradarić and Luka Ivanušec
Ones to watch: Mario Vušković and Marko Divković
Most valuable player: Lovro Majer – €10 million
Croatia had a bad start to the qualifiers under Nenad Gračan, but when Igor Biščan was appointed as head coach the team performed at a much better level and managed to qualify. The Croatian defence has been hit hard with injuries to Borna Sosa, Boško Šutalo and Joško Gvardiol, all of whom would have been in the XI if they were fit. RB Salzburg midfielder Luka Sučić received his first call-up to the U-21 side as well, but injury has prevented him from participating.
During the qualifiers, Chievo Verona goalkeeper Adrian Šemper was the first-choice goalkeeper, with Ivan Nevistić and Dominik Kotarski waiting for their chance from the bench. The biggest problem in defence will be at right-back which Šutalo would fill if he was available and now Marin Šverko will probably start in that position even though he is left-footed. It is interesting to see is that only the starting centre-back duo Mario Vušković and Martin Erlić are right-footed in the defence, with everyone else being left-footed. However, there is also a chance that Croatia start with a three-man defence due to their issues at right-back. The Dinamo Zagreb playmaker Lovro Majer and captain Nikola Moro will have to perform at their best in order for Croatia to qualify for the knockout phase. Other options in midfield are Kristijan Bistrović from Kasimpasa (on loan from CSKA Moscow) while the rest are from 1.HNL clubs: Mihael Žaper from Osijek, Bartol Franjić from Dinamo Zagreb, Hrvoje Babec from Gorica and Darko Nejašmić from Hajduk Split. Luka Ivanušec will surely start on the left and on the right Dario Špikić is the first choice, but Marko Divković’s performances haven’t gone unnoticed and he could be a surprise selection in the XI as well. At centre-forward, there is quality competition between Petar Musa, Dario Vizinger and Sandro Kulenović with Musa having a slight advantage. We are looking forward to see how the ex-Liverpool player Igor Biščan fills Croatia’s gaps in defence which will be important for Croatia to progress to the knockout rounds.
Key players: Bastien Toma, Andi Zequiri, Jordan Lotomba and Cedric Zesiger
Ones to watch: Leonidas Stergiou and Dan Ndoye
Most valuable player: Jordan Lotomba – €6 million
Switzerland notched the same number of points in their qualification group as France, which says a lot about their quality. They won nine matches and lost only once in their qualification run. There has been some controversy already with the side, as when the team was announced, the regular captain and a crucial part of the starting XI, Kevin Rüegg was not on the list. However, with Noah Okafor’s withdrawal, Rüegg was called up. It is unclear whether he will now start or if Mauro Lustrinelli will go with Jordan Lotomba or Silvan Sidler at right-back. Lotomba is versatile enough to play at left-back or on the right wing as well.
The number one should be Anthony Racioppi, with Philipp Köhn and Timothy Fayulu as his backups, while the starting centre-back duo will be Cédric Zesiger and Jan Bamert with top prospect Leonidas Stergiou initially expected to be on the bench. If Rüegg starts at right-back then Lotomba will be the left-back, otherwise Miro Muheim from St.Gallen will play at left-back. Toni Domgjoni will start as the holding midfielder with key man Bastien Toma while the third spot will be occupied either by Simon Sohm or Southampton youngster Alexandre Jankewitz. Dan Ndoye is worth monitoring and he will probably start on the right wing while St.Gallen’s Jérémy Guillemenot will start be on the other side. Felix Mambimbi and Petar Pušić will wait for their chance from the bench, but both are difference makers and could have an impact off the bench. Brighton & Hove Albion centre-forward Andi Zequiri will occupy the starting role in attack and he will be expected to make an impact up front if they want to upset the odds in this group. It is worth noting that attacking midfielder Nedim Bajrami i is not available either because he decided to play for Albania, even though he was a part of the Switzerland U-21 team in the qualifiers.
Key players: Francisco Trincão, Florentino Luis, Pedro Gonçalves and Gedson Fernandes
Ones to watch: Diogo Leite and Fábio Vieira
Most valuable player: Francisco Trincão – €25 million
Portugal had an excellent record in the qualifiers with nine wins and one loss, but because the Netherlands had a better goal difference, they ended up in first with Portugal in second. The Portugal roster has some top talents and they can definitely be a dark horse in this tournament.
Diogo Costa from Porto should be the starting goalkeeper, with his teammate Diogo Leite and ex-teammate Diogo Queirós in front of him as the centre-back duo. Tiago Djaló from Lille who has made 15 appearances in Ligue 1 this season will serve as backup for this duo. Nuno Mendes, the 18-year-old left-back, has been called up for the senior side, and since Rúben Vinagre is not part of the squad, Portugal do not have a natural left-back. Tomás Tavares, Thierry Correia and Diogo Dalot can play in that position even though all of them are right-backs. However, we expect Diogo Dalot, who is on loan at Milan from Manchester United, to start at right-back with Pedro Pereira as his backup. Florentino Luis and Gedson Fernandes will play in holding midfield, while Pedro Gonçalves, who is having a breakout season for Sporting Lisbon, will be the attacking midfielder in front of them. The Wolverhampton midfielder Vitinha is also a very good option as a number 10 Gonçalves is used instead on the wings. Barcelona’s Francisco Trincão will play on the right while we could see Fábio Vieira from Porto on the left. Dany Mota, Tiago Tomás and Gonçalo Ramos are their potential strikers. They will miss Pedro Neto who has received a call-up to the senior squad, but they still have enough talented attackers to be able to mount a strong challenge in this tournament.
England and Portugal are favourites to qualify for the knockout phase from this group, but both Croatia and Switzerland have teams that could cause an upset. All teams are missing some players, but have quality rosters nevertheless, and it will be very interesting for neutral fans to keep an eye on this group.