With the 2021 UEFA European Under-21 Championship set to start on Wednesday March 24, Eurosport asked its offices across the continent to pick out the tournament's best players. This is who they chose.

FRANCE

Eduardo Camavinga

Serie A
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  • Age: 18
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: Rennes
Camavinga is already a senior international but has been called up to the U-21s to provide an extra layer of quality during the group stages. He is more or less the future of French football with exceptional maturity. While his performances since the autumn have been marked with inconsistency, there is no questioning his talent. He is a modern midfielder: able to defend and attack, pass and press, tackle and dribble, create and destroy.

Jules Koundé

  • Age: 22
  • Position: Centre-back
  • Club: Sevilla
Koundé began his professional career in Girondins de Bordeaux, aged only 19, and after a season and a half of excellence, he moved to Sevilla FC for €25 million.
His lack of height for a centre-half – he stands roughly 5′8″ - is compensated by an excellent, aggressive ability to read the game, and he is a ball-playing defender. His continued development at Sevilla has seen him linked with moves to both Manchester clubs as well as Real Madrid. Despite being called into the U-21 squad, it would not be a surprise to see him representing France at the senior tournament in the summer.

Boubacar Kamara

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: Marseille
Marseille have had – to put it mildly – a tumultuous season. Yet Boubacar Kamara, just 21, has been consistently excellent. He is a product of their youth academy and is a guaranteed starter for Jorge Sampaoli. He is already one of the best defensive midfielders in France, which is all the more impressive considering his preferred position is centre-half.
His importance to Marseille is best summed up by new boss Sampaoli, who, with Kamara suspended for the match against Nice, said:
Kamara is difficult to replace. There is no other player in the squad with the same characteristics.
Marseille lost 3-0.
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ENGLAND

Callum Hudson-Odoi

  • Age: 20
  • Position: Winger
  • Club: Chelsea
“I know where he f***ing is, I just can’t stop it. What do you want me to do?”
The words of Robbie Brady after his boss Sean Dyche had told him to "tune in" during Burnley's Premier League clash with Chelsea as Hudson-Odoi dominated the right flank in a 2-0 win.
The above speaks to Hudson-Odoi's brilliance: he can operate wide left, wide right or through the centre and is excellent in one-on-one situations and opening up space via combination play. He has seen consistent game time, without ever nailing down a place, in a Chelsea team that is top heavy with attacking players, but, his career at the club has seemed a bit stop-start. However, new Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel appears to appreciate his talents, even if he has been the recipient of the odd harsh substitution thus far.
He already has three full England caps to his name, and produced some brilliant performances – providing an assist for Phil Foden in the final - when England won the U17 World Cup in 2017. The Euros represent an opportunity for Hudson-Odoi to re-establish himself as one of Europe's best young players.

Max Aarons

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Right-back
  • Club: Norwich City
In any other era, Max Aarons would be - despite playing in England's second tier after Norwich’s relegation last year - a full England international at the age of 21. However, as Trent Alexander-Arnold is all too aware, England currently have a wealth of right-sided full-backs. Such is that wealth, a player who has been courted by Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona finds himself in Aidy Boothroyd's U-21 squad.
Norwich know Aarons' worth. Here is what Canaries boss Daniel Farke said when Barcelona tried to take him on loan at the start of the season: “I wouldn’t sell Max Aarons for £100 million because he’s too valuable for us and we definitely need him. But if anyone is surprised he’s been linked with Barcelona, I’m not. I’m totally not.”
Aarons is very much a modern full-back who defends on the front foot, is comfortable on the ball and is suited to a ball-dominant side. At Norwich he has a great understanding with Emi Buendia, who drifts inside to open up space for Aarons to overlap.

Emile Smith Rowe

  • Age: 20
  • Position: Attacking midfielder
  • Club: Arsenal
Emile Smith Rowe has emerged as a central figure to Arsenal's mid-season revival. The 20-year-old, dubbed the Croydon De Bruyne by some, has injected an urgency and creativity to Mikel Arteta's side that was absent during a lacklustre start to their campaign.
The attacking midfielder's first Premier League appearance of the season came as late as December 26. He provided an assist for Bukayo Saka as a 3-1 win against Chelsea snapped a seven-game winless streak in the league. Since then, he has made a further 13 Premier League appearances and provided three more assists. His preferred position is as a central creator but he has operated from wide right and wide left since the signing of Martin Odegaard in January.
If there is one concern, it is his injury record; his progress was stifled by growing pains early in his career and he has had two – very minor – injury absences this season.
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GERMANY

Ridle Baku

  • Age: 22
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: VfL Wolfsburg
The 22-year-old VfL Wolfsburg player is the best prospect in this German U-21 squad and has already been capped for Joachim Löw’s senior side. In fact, it would be of no surprise if he forced his way into the Euro 2020 senior side in the summer. A strong performance during the group stages in Hungary and Slovenia would do his chances no harm.
He is already a regular at Wolfsburg, a side looking increasingly sure of its spot in next season’s Champions League. Baku is hugely versatile: he predominantly plays right-back but has operated as a left-back, right midfielder and even an attacking midfielder. Baku should be on every major club’s wish list.

Youssoufa Moukoko

  • Age: 16
  • Position: Striker
  • Club: Borussia Dortmund
From a German perspective, Moukoko is the story of the tournament. The Dortmund striker is just 16 years old but was selected by Stefan Kuntz after talks with Dortmund chief Michael Zorc. They both concluded that tournament experience would represent a great opportunity to develop Germany’s biggest talent. Moukoko is fast, has great technique and knows how to score. He has already scored three goals for BVB in the Bundesliga, making him their youngest ever scorer in the competition.
If he plays, he would become the youngest player ever to play at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship.
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ITALY

Gianluca Scamacca

  • Age: 22
  • Position: Striker
  • Club: Genoa (on loan from Sassuolo)
Gianluca Scamacca is a hugely important player for Italy's Under-21 coach Paolo Nicolato. The on-loan Sassuolo forward notched six goals and provided two assists in nine appearances in European qualifiers. He is physically strong with excellent movement.
His performances in Serie A this season - four goals in 19 appearances – were impacted by transfer speculation: in January Juventus wanted Scamacca, but talks with Sassuolo were fruitless, as I Neroverdi wanted €20-25 million for the forward.

Sandro Tonali

  • Age: 20
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: AC Milan (on loan from Brescia)
Sandro Tonali has played 33 games for AC Milan this season between Serie A, Europa League and Coppa Italia. A fine return for a midfielder who has, at times, struggled to adapt following his move from Brescia. The 20-year-old has a great future ahead of him, though - he is tactically aware and excels in both the attacking and defensive phases of the game.
At Milan he operates in a two-man midfield and hasn't always understood what Stefano Pioli wants from him. However, Italy U-21 coach Nicolato tends to favour playing with a three-man midfield and in this context Tonali could be a key player for the Azzurrini.

Samuele Ricci

  • Age: 19
  • Position: Defensive midfielder
  • Club: Empoli
Samuele Ricci, 19, currently plies his trade in Serie B, but his team, Empoli, are a near shoo-in for promotion with a seven-point advantage over Lecce in second after 30 matches. Ricci is a ball-dominant central midfielder with excellent vision. According to CIES (Football Observatory) Ricci is one of the most promising young players born in 2001 in Europe.
He is currently valued at €15 million, with AC Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina all said to be interested in him.
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SPAIN

Marc Cucurella

  • Age: 22
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: Getafe
Marc Cucurella is one of the most talented players to come out of Barcelona's academy, but couldn't make their first team after being loaned to Eibar and Getafe several times so eventually made the permanent move to Getafe. He started playing as a left-back, but his role has changed during the last year as he is a very attack-minded player. He is quite skilful and is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Riqui Puig

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: Barcelona
This is the right tournament at the right time for Riqui Puig. He is struggling to get some quality time at Barcelona at the moment, although he refuses to go on loan. He is meant to be one of the natural leaders for this Spanish group, and should take advantage of these games to show his quality. It's impossible not to think about Xavi and Andres Iniesta when he is on the field, so true tiki-taka lovers will enjoy watching him play.

Riqui Puig

Image credit: Getty Images

Gonzalo Villar

  • Age: 23
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: Roma
He's relatively unknown even in Spain, but Gonzalo Villar is growing so much at Roma under Paulo Fonseca. It's not easy for a Spaniard to adapt to Italian football and he did it in a very mature and surprising way without difficulty. He's very good at passing and show great levels of concentration during the games. If he keeps progressing like he's doing, he'll get his chance with Luis Enrique in the senior squad for sure.

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NETHERLANDS

Sven Botman

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Defender
  • Club: Lille
After a strong loan-spell at SC Heerenveen in the Eredivisie, centre-back Sven Botman made a surprising transfer from Ajax to LOSC Lille in July 2020. He instantly impressed in France and has only missed one game in the league this season and his strong performances have not gone unnoticed.
In February Canal+ linked the 21-year old to Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter.

Noa Lang

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Winger
  • Club: Club Brugge
Like Botman, Noa Lang has also come to prominence after leaving Ajax. In October 2020, the winger/wide forward, agreed a loan switch to Club Brugge - that agreement included a buyout clause for €6 million and the Belgian side are said to have already activated it.
In 22 league games, the versatile 21-year-old has scored twelve goals and provided seven assists.

Teun Koopmeiners

  • Age: 23
  • Position: Midfielder
  • Club: AZ Alkmaar
With over 100 games in the Eredivisie, Teun Koopmeiners is one of the more experienced players in Jong Oranje. Koopmeiners made his debut for AZ in 2017 and quickly became a first-team regular. And the captain of both AZ and the Netherlands U-21 is having the best season of his career so far. In 27 league matches, he has scored 15 goals and registered five assists.
At the start of the season Koopmeiners was already heavily linked to a transfer to the Premier League or the Ligue 1 and a big move now seems inevitable.
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ROMANIA

Darius Olaru

  • Age: 23
  • Position: Attacking midfielder
  • Club: FCSB
The 23-year-old is a very skilful box-to-box midfielder. In 2021, Olaru has been in superb form for Romanian championship leaders FCSB and will be the man to watch in Adrian Mutu’s team.

Alexandru Mățan

  • Age: 21
  • Position: Attacking midfielder
  • Club: Columbus Crew
Mățan is a winger with tight ball control and an eye for goal. He is a Romanian version of Phil Foden but with exceptional speed. After a few good seasons in Gheorghe Hagi's team Viitorul, he signed for the Columbus Crew in MLS.

Radu Drăgușin

  • Age: 19
  • Position: Centre-back
  • Club: Juventus
This powerful defender could be the surprise of the tournament. Drăgușin is only 19, but has already played for Andrea Pirlo's Juventus in Italy. His nickname is ‘The Romanian Van Dijk’ and his potential seem limitless.
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