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10 young stars to watch at the u21 European Championship

The 2023 UEFA Under-21 European Championship kicks off this week as Romania and Georgia co-host the tournament.

The next generation for European football’s leading nations which compete for the trophy this summer and ahead of the tournament we’ve selected 10 stars to keep an eye on.

10 stars to watch at the u21 European Championship

Lois Openda – Belgium

Lois Openda will lead Belgium’s challenge for the competition after a brilliant debut season in Ligue 1 at Lens.

Openda has attracted attention from some of Europe’s leading clubs after scoring 21 league goals, form which saw Lens finish as runners-up to Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1 and secure Champions League qualification.

The 23-year-old is Belgium’s all-time record goalscorer at u21 level with 13 goals from 15 caps and the forward’s finishing has seen him linked with AC Milan, RB Leipzig and West Ham this summer.

Alongside AC Milan’s Charles De Ketelaere, he will be the key figure for a Belgium side who have qualified for the tournament for just the fourth time.

Giorgi Mamardashvili – Georgia

Giorgi Mamardashvili is the most recognisable name in the squad for co-hosts Georgia, having been a regular at La Liga side Valencia across the past two seasons.

Premier League clubs have tracked the progress of the goalkeeper in recent months, with Mamardashvili regarded as a player with huge potential and as Georgian football’s brightest prospect behind Napoli’s Khvicha Kvaratskhelia.

The 22-year-old has already won eight caps for the senior side, but the 6ft 6in shot-stopper will drop back to u21 level in a bid to help the co-hosts compete in a group containing Portugal, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Micky van de Ven – Netherlands

Micky van de Ven’s name has been in the transfer headlines of late with Liverpool linked with a move to sign the Dutch defender.

Van de Ven took time to settle at Wolfsburg after arriving from Dutch second division side Volendam in 2021, but has since developed into one of the most promising defenders in the Bundesliga after a breakthrough campaign in 2022/23.

The 22-year-old made 36 appearances in all competitions for Wolfsburg last season and has impressed in both central defence and at full-back. Van de Ven is an imposing left-footed defender who combines a 6ft 3in frame with real pace. He’ll be one to watch in a Dutch side who will start the tournament among the favourites, after securing qualification in unbeaten fashion.

Martin Baturina – Croatia

Croatia has been a breeding ground for technical midfielders across the last two decades and Martin Baturina appears the latest exciting talent off the production line. Baturina has had a brilliant season for Dinamo Zagreb, the club which produced compatriots Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic.

The 20-year-old has scored six goals and laid on 13 assists in 36 league appearances for the Croatian champions and featured five times as a substitute during the club’s Champions League campaign.

Baturina provided a glimpse of what he can produce during Croatia u21’s 2-1 win over England u21s at Craven Cottage in March, opening the scoring with a fantastic free-kick into the top corner.

He will be tasked with unlocking the defensive doors for Croatia, who take on Ukraine in their opening fixture on June 21.

Gabri Veiga – Spain

Gabri Veiga is another name at the top of the transfer gossip columns right now, with Europe’s leading clubs scrambling to sign the Spanish starlet.

Veiga had started just one league fixture for Celta Vigo before this season, but has had an outstanding campaign to score 11 league goals and ensure Los Celestes climbed away from trouble and avoided relegation to Spain’s Segunda División.

His reward was a first u21 cap last year and he will now form part of the Spanish challenge as Santi Denia’s side seek a record sixth UEFA European Under-21 Championship this summer.

Several sides are considering activating Veiga’s reported £34m release clause this summer. Expect that interest to increase with a strong tournament.

Youssoufa Moukoko – Germany

It might feel as if Youssoufa Moukoko has been around for a long time, but the Borussia Dortmund forward is still just 18-years-old.

Dortmund’s worst-kept-secret first rose to prominence after scoring 141 goals in just 88 games for the club’s under-17 and under-19 sides, before becoming the youngest debutant in Bundesliga history aged just 16 years and one day in 2020.

Moukoko has had a more regular role in the senior side this season following Erling Haaland’s exit and scored seven goals in 26 league appearances as Dortmund narrowly missed out on the title. 

The teenager became the youngest German player ever to feature at the World Cup for the senior side in Qatar last winter, but will now look to continue his prolific record for the u21 team at this summer’s European Championship. He has six goals in just five appearances for the holders, who will be looking for back-to-back triumphs in Georgia and Romania.

Morgan Gibbs-White – England

Morgan Gibbs-White was an unfortunate omission from the England senior squad for this summer’s internationals, but Gareth Southgate may have decided the midfielder would benefit more from tournament football after a fantastic first season at Nottingham Forest.

Gibbs-White won over the initial doubters that greeted his £25m arrival at the City Ground last summer, scoring five goals and providing eight assists as Forest avoided relegation.

The midfielder has 13 caps for England’s u21 side and will be an experienced figure in Lee Carsley’s squad, one brimming with creative talent as Gibbs-White, Curtis Jones and Jacob Ramsey offer goal threat from central midfield.

Gibbs-White will feel he is ready for the step up to senior level and a strong tournament this summer could convince Southgate to take the same view.

Khéphren Thuram – France

Khéphren Thuram could be headed for the Premier League this summer if speculation is to be believed, with the French midfielder on the radar of Liverpool as Jurgen Klopp looks to rebuild his midfield.

It’s not difficult to see how Thuram would thrive in English football, with the 22-year-old’s combination of technical and physical attributes appearing well-suited to the demands of the Premier League.

The son of France legend Lilian has already had senior recognition and will be a driving force in France’s bid for u21 success this summer. He will form part of an all-action engine room alongside Borussia Monchengldbach’s Manu Kone and Lyon’s Maxence Caqueret, while Lorient’s Enzo Le Fée is one to keep an eye on.

Le Fée combines creative elegance with work-rate off the ball and ranked ninth in Europe’s top seven leagues for tackles won last season, despite primarily being an attacking option.

Giorgio Scalvini – Italy

Does any nation produce defenders quite like Italy?

The Azzurri’s list of defensive greats makes for some reading, from Franco Baresi to Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta and Georgio Chiellini. Atalanta teenager Giorgio Scalvini is now viewed as the nation’s next big thing.

The 19-year-old is one of the youngest players at this summer’s tournament after an impressive season in Serie A, one which has seen the left-sided centre-back shine with intelligent and aggressive defending.

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Scalvini has already won four senior caps and is on the radar of top clubs across the continent. Napoli are said to be considering an approach with Kim Min-jae expected to move on and the Italian champions view Scalvini as a potential replacement for the South Korean centre-back, who was named as Serie A’s Best Defender in 2022/23.

Antonio Nusa – Norway

Antonio Nusa has been included in the Norway squad for the tournament despite being uncapped at u21 level to date.

The forward made headlines after becoming the youngest debut scorer in Champions League history last September, after finding the net during Club Brugge’s 4-0 win away at FC Porto.

The 18-year-old made 31 appearances in all competitions for Club Brugge last season and is the latest exciting talent being developed within the club’s ranks. Hopes are high that Nusa can continue to improve and join Norway’s exciting crop of emerging talent, headlined by star names Martin Odegaard and Erling Haaland.

Read – Five PL players who will be ‘like new signings’ next season

Read Also – Ranking the five best defensive midfielders in the world

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