In true major tournament custom, Euro 2020 has served as a platform for a number of young stars to impress, with a select few, in particular, catching the eye.
From Michael Owen at the 1998 World Cup to Wayne Rooney at the 2004 European Championships, the international scene has the ability to drive a young star into the spotlight and transform them from potential prospects into overnight sensations.
Of course, this is not to say that the old timers can not also thrive – just look at Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci with Italy – yet there is simply something gratifying about watching a relatively unknown, young crowd take a tournament by the neck.
As the current competition approaches its climax, we have selected the five players who have had a breakthrough summer at Euro 2020.
Probably contrary to being a player in the tournament, let alone just one of the new young stars, Pedri has announced himself on the world stage in a huge way.
There has been a lot of noise from Barcelona about their young marvel in the last 12 months, yet it has taken this summer for most spectators to really sit up and notice the creative midfielder who has simply shone on Luis Enrique’s side.
– WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 9, 2021
Pushing into a very changed and updated Spain team, few probably expected the 18-year-old to play quite as heavily, yet he has embarked on starting every single one of La Roja’s games and playing near enough every minute as a part of their journey to the semifinals.
There was, of course, the remarkable own goal in the 5-3 victory over Croatia, although the teenager would expect much of the blame to go to goalkeeper Unai Simon, who did not control a burning but no doubt manageable back pass.
At the other end of the pitch, the former Las Palmas player has been Spain’s creative driving force, especially by keeping Liverpool playmaker Thiago Alcantara off the sidelines throughout the tournament.
While impressive over the course of their run to the final four, his performance at Wembley was perhaps the best of the lot as he dictated the pace against a significantly more experienced Italian midfield trio of Jorginho, Marco Verratti and Nicolo Barella.
Push in the Danish start-XI after the terrible collapse of talisman Christian Eriksen in the opening game, Mikkel Damsgaard has more than capitalized on what must have been a slightly bittersweet involvement, as he took over the mantle of the nation’s most important creative strength in absence of his hit teammate.
Drifting over the front line behind Martin Braithwaite and Yousef Poulsen, the 21-year-old quickly showed his talent in Denmark’s excellent show in the final 2-1 defeat against Belgium, before he rubber-stamped that quality in the last group game against Russia.
When Kasper Hjulmand’s side needed a victory, the Sampdoria kid got his side as best he could and curled up in an astonishing effort after 38 minutes to give his side the lead, with the Danes running out with 4-1 winners to advance to the knockout. stage.
Another strong display came when Denmark ran riots against Wales in the round of 16, before making another solid shift against the Czech Republic in the hard-fought 2-1 quarter-final victory.
Perhaps his finest moment this summer, however, was his dipping free-kick to give his side the lead against England in Wednesday’s semi-final, where the young man had the bottle to not only step up to take it in front of a fierce home support, but then also to have the quality to perform such a difficult technique.
– ITV Football (@itvfootball) July 7, 2021
Although in the end it turned out in vain – like Kieran Trippier’s stunning three years ago – it’s a further indicator of how talented the striker is. His current club will thank their lucky stars that the player still has three years left on his current deal, as suitors are likely to sniff around.
Belgian fans will no doubt look back on what was a disappointing tournament show in truth, yet a really bright spark has been the ‘emergence’ of 19-year-old Jeremy Doku, who set pulses during his stunning quarter-final show.
The Rennes midfielder is already highly respected in his home country Belgium when he joined the ranks of Anderlecht, yet Euro 2020 was a clear marker for the rest of Europe how much talent he is despite a frustrating debut season in France.
The teenager has had to bite his time for involvement, such is the depth of Roberto Martinez’s team, but got a start from the former Everton boss in the 2-0 win over Finland in the last group game.
After sitting out the victory over Portugal in the last 16, Dokus’ big break really came in the quarter-final against Italy, when he was appointed from the start in the absence of the injured Eden Hazard in front of senior stars Dries Mertens and Yannick Carrasco.
Despite a quiet start, he grew into the game and made his impression just before the break, driving into the Italian box at fast speed and forcing Giovanni Di Lorenzo to make a clumsy challenge with Romelu Lukaku netting from the resulting spot kick.
Jérémy Doku completed eight take-ons against Italy, most of any single-player play so far # EURO2020
Only 19 years old. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/bD1QdMQFs2
– Squawka Football (@Squawka) July 2, 2021
After the break, where his side struggled to find an equalizer, Doku continued to give the spark, almost getting the breakthrough after weaving past a series of defenders before loosening an effort that only narrowly sailed over the crossbar.
The Belgian ‘Golden Generation’ may come to an end, but that is not to say that there is talent coming through to replace them.
For the Premier League and more specifically Arsenal fans, Bukayo Saka is no unknown crowd after impressing the Emirates the last couple of seasons, yet it is not to say that this summer has not been a huge breakout tournament for the teenager.
Still only 19, he has undoubtedly been the Gunners’ best player over the last 18 months and has transferred this form to international duty so smoothly and earned Gareth Southgate’s confidence with a number of fine displays.
The versatile striker had impressed on the wing-back in the Nations League this autumn, but it is further forward where he has been so devastating for England this summer, his pace and dribbling ability a real asset for his country.
After a lively showdown against the Czech Republic in the last group game, Saka kept his place until the 16th final with Germany, lined up alongside Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in attack and proved a valuable item to drive England up the pitch, especially when Southgate chooses to implement a back five.
A light knock saw him miss Ukraine, with Jadon Sancho impressing in his place, yet he once again kept the Manchester United man – and a host of other attacking talents – out of the team for the semi-finals.
Although it was not his best performance in the tournament, he still made a narrative contribution and maintained a Harry Kane through ball before firing the ball over the field, where Simon Kjær became his own net under pressure from Raheem Sterling.
Such an impact is likely to see him retain his place in the final, but even if he does not, it should not overshadow what has been a fine summer for the Arsenal man.
Yeah yeah, we know what you’re thinking, Billy Gilmour only played once, but boy was that some show he put in the lonely look.
Scotland fans have been calling for it Chelsea young to get more playing time over the last year or so, despite his lack of minutes at club level, with the nation apparently in desperate need of a player of his quality in midfield.
After missing the opening match, manager Steve Clarke gave the fans what they wanted for the second group game against England, giving the 20-year-old a start against ‘Auld Enemy’.
A game of enormous size and pressure, the occasion did not seem to bother the young man who bossed the midfield from off, so his colleagues simply had no time on the ball to try to be settled.
The midfield masters only grew more into the game as it progressed and deservedly deserved the man of the match at the end of the goalless draw, with Scotland perhaps counting themselves unlucky for not scoring all three points.
Unfortunately for both Gilmour and the Scots, he was forced to miss the last group game after testing positive for Covid-19, yet the screen alone sent a real message to those across Europe who may not have been aware of his talent in advance.
Josko Gvardiol The Croatian teenager – known as ‘Little Pep’ – had a fine tournament that started all four of his country’s games at left back. Return to RB Leipzig this summer after a year on loan at Dinamo Zagreb.