UEFA European Under 21 Championship: 10 rising stars to watch as the group stages get underway


The European Under 21 Championship group stage gets underway this evening with 16 nations competing for a place in this summer’s finals.

The tournament is typically a showcase of some of the brightest talents in the game as they look to prove they can take the next step in their careers.

But with the group games just hours away from starting, who should you be looking out for? Sportsmail has highlighted 10 players to keep an eye on.

The European Under 21 Championship group stages get underway on Wednesday evening

Justin Kluivert (Holland)

Son of Holland legend Patrick, the RB Leipzig winger (on loan from Roma) has some big shoes to fill but he has shown how deadly he can be when cutting in from the left wing.

Having soared through the Ajax ranks, Kluivert snubbed Manchester United’s advances to join Roma for £16m in 2018 and is now gaining valuable experience in the Bundesliga on a season-long loan under Julian Nagelsmann. 

The 21-year-old has two senior caps to his name and nine U21 appearances under his belt, with four goals at the lower level.

His electric pace and goalscoring threat will make him a nightmare to defend against in this year’s tournament. 

Justin Kluivert will be looking to trouble defences by cutting in from the left for Holland

Justin Kluivert will be looking to trouble defences by cutting in from the left for Holland

Sandro Tonali (Italy)

The AC Milan enforcer, who is currently on loan from Brescia, has drawn comparisons to Andrea Pirlo and is one of Italy’s most promising players.

The 20-year-old has an aura of elegance on the ball while also possessing great awareness when linking defence and attack together in the heart of midfield.

Tonali has already earned four caps for Italy and six for the U21s, giving him the edge compared to many of his team-mates.

With Lorenzo Colombo scoring the goals ahead of him, Tonali has a serious chance of making his stamp on world football and make his loan move at the San Siro a permanent one.

Sandro Tonali has drawn comparisons to Andrea Pirlo and is one of Italy's most promising stars

Sandro Tonali has drawn comparisons to Andrea Pirlo and is one of Italy’s most promising stars

Radu Dragusin (Romania)

Standing at 6ft 2in tall, rock-solid defender Dragusin has been dubbed the ‘Romanian Virgil van Dijk’ because of how comfortable he is on the ball while showing fantastic positional awareness in the heart of the defence.

At Juventus, the 19-year-old is learning his trade as a centre-back alongside Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini, while Juve boss Pirlo has given him the chance to shine in the first team.

Like Kluivert, it should come as no surprise that Dragusin has gone on to become a professional sportsman, given that his parents have represented Romania in volleyball and basketball.

Chelsea, PSG and Atletico Madrid have tried, and failed, to sign him in recent years and it is no wonder given his tag that he could become the game’s next best defender.

Juventus defender Radu Dragusin has been dubbed as the 'Romanian Virgil van Dijk'

Juventus defender Radu Dragusin has been dubbed as the ‘Romanian Virgil van Dijk’

Francisco Trincao (Portugal)

The first of two Barcelona starlets to make this list, Trincao has been a revelation for Ronald Koeman’s side in what has been a topsy-turvy season and is looking worth every bit of the £26m that the Catalan giants paid Braga for him.

He already has three goals and two assists from 36 games for Barcelona and is set to be a part of Portugal’s attack for the tournament. 

England U21s boss Aidy Boothroyd will be wary of the 21-year-old, given the Young Lions will face Trincao and Co this Sunday.

Another youngster that has senior call-ups to his name, Trincao can cement his place in future Portugal sides with a good showing at U21s level. 

Barcelona starlet Francisco Trincao will pose a serious threat for Portugal up front

Barcelona starlet Francisco Trincao will pose a serious threat for Portugal up front

Ibrahima Konate (France)

France have been blessed with an array of talent in recent years, which will be at Sylvain Ripoll’s disposal for the group stages and beyond.

One of these standout talents – along with compatriot and Sevilla starlet Jules Kounde – is Konate, who is already regarded as one of Europe’s most highly-rated defenders.

The Leipzig man has stood out in the Bundesliga when partnered alongside Bayern Munich-bound Dayot Upamecano, and a fine showing at the U21 Euros could see him destined for bigger and better things.

Arsenal, United and Chelsea have all been linked with the 21-year-old while Real Madrid view him as a potential long-term successor for Raphael Varane. 

Ibrahima Konate, pictured tackling Marcus Rashford, is highly regarded in European football

Ibrahima Konate, pictured tackling Marcus Rashford, is highly regarded in European football

Mohamed Daramy (Denmark)

While Copenhagen’s Daramy is one of the lesser-known talents on this list, the Danish winger can be sure to gain a lot more fans should he be given a licence to thrill from out wide or through the centre.

With pace to burn and an eye for goal, the striking sensation has already attracted interest from the likes of Liverpool and Man United – who he has supported since he was a boy.

Comfortable across the frontline, Daramy will be a serious threat for France, Iceland and Russia in the group and will need to be at his very best if Denmark are to have any hope of progressing in the tournament.

Copenhagen forward Mohamed Daramy can play anywhere along Denmark's frontline

Copenhagen forward Mohamed Daramy can play anywhere along Denmark’s frontline

Youssoufa Moukoko (Germany)

Arguably the most exciting talent on this list, Moukoko is almost guaranteed to score goals during the tournament given his outrageous record at youth level. 

The 16-year-old striker, who was only old enough to play professionally in Germany as of November, scored an outrageous 141 goals in 88 youth team matches for Dortmund.

Moukoko’s lethal finishing in front of goal has caught the world’s attention and will be a certain goal-getter once the tournament gets underway.

Since making his senior debut for Dortmund in November, Moukoko, who already has a £9million deal with Nike, has gone on to make 15 appearances for the Bundesliga giants, scoring three times – becoming the club’s youngest ever goalscorer in the process.

Already earmarked to be a future Ballon d’Or winner, Moukoko can showcase his talents on one of the world’s biggest stages for youth players, even before his professional career has really begun. 

Dortmund wonderkid Youssoufa Moukoko is almost guaranteed to score goals for Germany

Dortmund wonderkid Youssoufa Moukoko is almost guaranteed to score goals for Germany

Emile Smith Rowe (England)

Having broken into Arsenal’s first team, Smith Rowe has provided competition for Martin Odegaard while becoming a fan favourite in the process.

The Gunners’ ‘Croydon De Bruyne’ was pivotal in the club’s north London derby win over Spurs earlier this month and is destined for greatness at the Emirates.

A nailed-on starter for Boothroyd’s side, Smith Rowe can be the driving force to push England into the latter stages of the tournament, while his creativity and close control with help the Young Lions open up opposition defences.

With five goals and six assists for Arsenal this season, Smith Rowe will be hoping to translate his good form on to the European stage. 

Emile Smith Rowe has become an Arsenal fan favourite after breaking into the senior side

Emile Smith Rowe has become an Arsenal fan favourite after breaking into the senior side

Riqui Puig (Spain)

Our second Barcelona entry on the list comes in the form of the club’s La Masia graduate Puig.

Like Dragusin, Puig has already been likened to one of the game’s greatest players, with many comparing him to Andres Iniesta, given how he effortlessly plays the game.

The 21-year-old also has an eye for goal and possesses plenty of quality both with and without the ball. 

Puig won’t be shy in showcasing his talents during the tournament which will also provide him with a platform to show Koeman why he deserves more minutes in Barcelona’s blossoming side. 

Barcelona and Spain starlet Riqui Puig has an eye for goal and is a typical product of La Masia

Barcelona and Spain starlet Riqui Puig has an eye for goal and is a typical product of La Masia

Eduardo Camavinga (France)

It is no secret that Zinedine Zidane wants compatriot Camavinga to join him at Real Madrid. 

The Angolan-born Camavinga is widely regarded as one of the most exciting young players in Europe and will set back potential suitors £44m if they are to sign the Rennes wonderkid this summer. 

With three France international caps to his name and 28 appearances in Ligue 1, including four Champions League starts this season, the 18-year-old already has plenty of big-game experience very early on in his career.

There is still a strong possibility that the French teenager can still feature for Didier Deschamps’ senior squad at the Euros this summer, with strong performances in Hungary and Slovenia doing no harm to his chances of getting that call-up.

Already likened to Paul Pogba, Camavinga has long been touted as the game’s next best thing – and now he has the chance to prove it. 

Eduardo Camavinga is widely regarded as one of the most exciting young players in Europe

Eduardo Camavinga is widely regarded as one of the most exciting young players in Europe