You might think that a prestigious Under-21 tournament would identify the stars of tomorrow, but in actual fact this European Championship in Poland has highlighted some young players for whom stardom is imminent…and perhaps already here.
If you’ve never heard the names Saul Niguez, Marco Asensio and Inaki Williams then surely you soon will; this Spanish trio have been the mainstays of their national side that has blitzed all others in the competition so far. Spain are into the final, and looking good for another piece of major silverware.
And in the final they will meet…Germany. The perennial big tournament players have had a rather bumpier ride to the last showdown on Friday evening, but they are still in the mix and, as we know with German sides, will take some beating.
This is perhaps the perfect final from a neutral observer’s point of view…but is it any good for punters?
Sun Shining on Spanish Starlets
Heading into the tournament it was easy to argue that Spain had the strongest squad – and their performances so far have done little to disprove the theory.
Their roster is staffed with players who already are regular first-teamers for their clubs at such a young age: from front to back you have the likes of Hector Bellerin, Jose Luis Gaya, Saul, Asensio, Denis Suarez, Inaki, Sandro Ramirez and Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu.
Of course, you can have a strong unit of players, but they all have to come together in a coherent system that is capable of winning matches. And boy, have Spain been winning their matches.
They demolished Macedonia 5-0 as you might expect, but their 3-1 triumph over neighbours Portugal was a real treat. After just two games, the Spanish had witnessed six different players scoring.
Their final group game was a dead rubber against Serbia, and after making changes they just about got by 1-0. But again, it was the comfortable margin of their victory in the semi-final over an Italy side that had beaten Germany in Group C – a 3-1 scoreline with Saul bagging a hat-trick – that spoke volumes.
Germans Battle to Yet Another Final
The Germans’ route to the final showdown has been in stark contrast to Spain’s; in fact, it has been something of a war of attrition.
Their cause hasn’t been helped by the Confederations Cup – the likes of Timo Werner, Julian Brandt and Niklas Sule have all travelled with the senior squad to Russia, but their teammates have stuck to the task admirably.
After easy wins over the Czech Republic and Denmark, they lost 0-1 to Italy in the fixture that decided who would top Group C; a result which meant they went through to the last four as the best runner-up.
And in the semi-finals they battled back from 1-2 down against England to force extra time and then penalties – if you have followed international football down the years, you don’t need telling how a Germany vs England penalty shootout ended.
So, by hook or by crook, the Germans will meet Spain in the final on Friday evening in Stadion Crakovia out in Poland (7:45pm GMT kick off).
Given the contrasting nature of their routes to the final, you would assume that Spain have lots more left in the tank compared to Germany, who have had to fight tooth and nail to get there.
The Germans have been hampered by the absence of key players to be fair, and they may well be missing another with top goalscorer Davie Selke picking up an injury in the semi-final win.
Spain are flying, and while Germany have that tradition of doing well in major tournaments they may just be a little leggy as they attempt to withstand the attacking quartet of Saul, Inaki, Asensio and Deulofeu.
Their free-flowing football has been a joy to behold, and at times they look capable of walking the ball into the net. We’re backing them in a double: Spain to Win & Over 2.5 Goals at 15/8.