Euro under21 Preview: Group A & B Analysis (Update)
Updated: Jul 20
Update 8/6: A lot has happened since this article was published.
Sorare has announced official coverage for the games which is huge news! And most of the teams have their (provisionary) teams announced. I've added the team's visuals to the text, I did not review the article itself.
The European Under-21 Championship will be the 24th edition hosted by Romania & Georgia. The tournament will take place from 9 June 2023 to 2 July 2023. Only players born after 1/1/2000 are eligible to play.
As usual, there are 4 groups with 4 teams competing for the trophy and a spot in the Olympic games. Europe has three slots in the 2024 Olympic men's football tournament, not counting hosts France, who automatically qualify. The top three finishers in the U21 finals (other than France and England, who cannot qualify for the Olympics. They compete as Great Brittain in the Olympics) will take part in the tournament. The winners and runners-up in each group will advance to the quarter-finals.
Sorare won't be covering the games, so we can't "own the game" directly. However we are football fans and as a Sorare manager, it's good to know who's coming up in the youth leagues. Where to watch the Euro -21 on tv? Who's got the broadcasting rights for this event? You can find an answer to this question right here.
Some history, two years ago, Germany won 1-0 against Portugal and Lukas Nmecha (Wolfsburg) scored the only goal of the final and ended up as the top goalscorer of the tournament.
Let's start by saying that the official teams have not been announced yet. So everything I'm writing is based on interviews, former line-ups, news articles, and somewhat common sense. That doesn't mean I'm right.
You can find the second article about U21 Euros Group C & D right here.
The runners-up of the last tournament are ready to compete for the title once again. As is tradition, Portugal has some quality players that might not be known to everyone yet. It is unclear who'll be the first goalkeeper at this stage. Celton Biai is a youth product of the academy Benfica and plays for Vitória Guimarães as the second goalkeeper. He was the first goalkeeper for the U21 but recently got called up for the first National team by new coach Rrrroberto Martinez. During the last few games, Samuel Soares (Benfica), the 'second' goalkeeper, played a few games. You might know Soares from the goal he made last November that went viral during a game with Benfica B. The Fabio's are the ones to watch: Fabio Silva (Wolves, on loan to PSV), captain Fabio Vieira (Arsenal), and Fabio Carvalho (Liverpool). Rightwinger Pedro Neto (Wolves) and the two young players from Marseille Vitinha (most expensive transfer for Marseille ever) and left-back Tavares (on loan from Arsenal). Gonçalo Ramos (Benfica) had 12(!) goals in the qualification games, although I doubt he'll be called up after his breakthrough season.
The Dutch team, undefeated in their qualifiers, has already tweeted the preliminary selection of Jong Oranje. Giving us some more insight into the team. Current goalkeepers that are called up: Jay Gorter (Aberdeen, on loan from Ajax), Fabian De Keijzer (Utrecht), and Kjell Scherpen (Vitesse, on loan from Brighton). Nothing out of the ordinary here, but not called up is Bart Verbruggen (Anderlecht). Chances are he'll be called up for the first team. Also not called up is Xavi Simons (PSV), for the same reason. Coach Van de Looi told that players who are in action in the Nations League are not available for the EK under 21 after that. There is too much overlap for that. Something that Belgium is considering doing. Other players on the list: Bakker (PSG), Gravenberch (Bayern Munchen), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax), Dallinga (Toulouse) 12 goals in Ligue1 this season, and maybe the biggest surprise: Frimpeong (Leverkusen).
After both the hosts, the undefeated team Belgium was the first team to qualify for the tournament. The young Red Devils are looking to field their best team possible and rumors are floating around that some first-team players will join the team. It is a popular belief In Belgium that the past golden generation was formed during the Olympic Games 2008 in Peking. And that Olympic ticket for Paris 2024, is the goal of this team. The following names are being whispered: Openda (Lens) who has 19 goals in Ligue1 and was the top scorer in the qualifiers with 7 goals. Bakayoko (PSV), DeBast (Anderlecht), De Ketelaere (AC Milan), and Lavia (Southampton). In addition to an already strong team. Unfortunately, the newly appointed Sorare goat, Doku (Rennes), has already been ruled out for this as an account of his injury-prone season. And we are not even listing the players that will be called up for sure... The goalkeepers for this team are clear; Vandevoordt (RC Genk) is the first choice, with Senne Lammens (Club Brugge but soon out of contract) and Shinton (Club Brugge) as his backups.
Welcome Georgia! Welcome to the group of death! It's Georgia first ever appearance in the tournament, they have qualified automatically as hosts. They look to be happy to be there. When talking about Georgian football, I always think about one player in particular: yes, indeed, Shota Arveladze, a former player for among others Ajax and the Rangers. He's 50 years old so I doubt he'll be called up.
Other names are of course Kvaratskhelia (Napoli) and Sorare famous young goalkeeper Mamardashvili (Valencia).
They both could be called up as they fall in the correct age category but it seems very unlikely that they'll participate.
It is impossible to predict this group. The Belgian u21 team had won their preliminary group with ease, yet they had only ended up in the 3rd pot at the draw. That meant they would almost certainly be paired with two other top countries, in this case, Netherlands and Portugal. Three excellent teams and only the first two will advance to the knock-out stages. The Netherlands and Belgium played against each other last September, a game The Dutchies won 1-2. The first game is a head-to-head Belgium vs The Netherlands and will be crucial for both.
Together with Italy is Spain the most decorated team of the tournament. They both won it 4 times. Spain has won their qualifiers group effortlessly. 8 games, 8 wins, a +32 goal difference, and only 5 goals against.
Much like the A-team, Spain’s under-21 side has begun a new era, with of course some new wonder kids. A lot of them are hanging between the first team and -21. To name a few: Leftback Baldé (Barcelona) is a youngster with unlimited potential and is a possible call-up. Topscorer of the qualification group Abel Ruiz (Braga), modern left back Sergio Gomez (Man City) had 6 goals, Rodrigo Riquelme Reche, known as Roro, who plays as a right winger for Girona, is on loan from Atlético Madrid. Gabri Veiga is one of the breakout players in La Liga this season. The Celta Vigo player has attracted interest from several Premier League clubs including Arsenal, Newcastle, Manchester United, and Real Madrid.
The goalkeepers are some phenomenal names and most of them are already featured on our blog. Julen Agirrezabala (Athletic Bilbao), Arnau Tenas (Barcelona), Roman (Mallorca), Morro (Rayo Vallecano), and Garcia (Espanyol), ... Coach Santi Denia is optimistic and ambitious for the tournament, four years ago they were defeated by a better Portugal in the quarter-final.
Romania is co-hosting with Georgia and was automatically drawn into the group stage of the final tournament. It's hard to measure the real strength of this team as they haven't played an official game in ages. If the recent friendly's are any of an indicator, things aren't looking bright. But friendlies are friendlies..., I'm sure the home team will be bent over backward to show they can play ball on their home turf. I don't know a whole lot of players, maybe these names will rind a bell with you: Left winger Rareş Ilie (Maccabi Tel Aviv, on loan from Nice), Claudiu Petrila (FC Cluj) who's already being called up for the first national team.
Croatia finished second in their group behind Norway and had to go through the playoffs to reach the tournament. In this playoff game, they had a close game against Denmark, 3-3 agg, but eventually won on penalties. Croatia was unable to pass the group stage until the 2021 Euro when it was eliminated in the quarter-finals, its greatest accomplishment in the European competition so far. Some more familiar players in this squad. Striker Roko Šimić has been linked with a few teams these past years but ended up at RB Salzburg. His father might be more known as he comes from a football family. Father Dario Simic was an internationally renowned defender with as many as 100 caps. Other players keep tabs on: The new Luka Modric Martin Baturina (Dinamo Zagreb) and former futsal player Dion Beljo (Augsburg). The first goalkeeper might ring a bell for the Football Manager players among us. Dominik Kotarski plays for PAOK but played 60 games for Jong Ajax. The second goalkeeper is also a known Sorare player Ivor Pandur (Fortuna Sittard)
It's been 5 editions Ukraine attended the EC -21. And against all odds (there is still a war going on) managed to qualify this year.
They had to go through the playoff system as they finished behind France in their group, which isn't a shame seeing the quality of France.
Impressively, Ukraine U21 has put in some great performances. For instance, in their first game back, they swept aside the Faroe Islands 4-0. Just four days later, they beat North Macedonia by the same score line. But let's be honest, not the biggest names in football. Danylo Sikan (Shaktar) is one of the players I know, but only because of his colossal misser in the Champions League last year. He's also their lead goalscorer. I wish I could say some more about the team or players but we've finally reached the end of my knowledge.
Ukraine won the Eurovision song festival last year. That's about it.
Our conclusion: Spain will win the group effortlessly. The runner-up position is up for grabs.
Will the quality of Croatia win it from the unyielding tenacity of Ukraine? Or will the home crowd propel Romania to new highs?
Footnote: I've been making these little write-ups for some time and I see these are a source of inspiration for other writers and journalists who are researching their new articles. I'm flattered obviously but a link to the website as a source is much appreciated. Thanks!