As the UEFA U-21 Tournament gets started on Wednesday, the excitement of watching this tournament lies in being able to see players who are on the cusp of stardom. Many of the those participating will either play for the senior national team or have played for their respective senior national teams a handful of times already.
There are three players whose performance will most determine whether or not their respective teams can or will win the tournament: Wilfried Zaha, Marco Verratti, and Thiago Alcantara (pictured above).
Zaha will be looking to help England win the tournament for the third time. The 20-year-old winger just recently helped Crystal Palace win promotion to the English Premier League, and will certainly be a regular beginning next season for Manchester United.
While the team coached by former English international Stuart Pearce has a squad of quality players, Zaha is a class above his teammates in terms of skill and speed. He is a player who reminds me of what Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben are in terms of play, meaning that he is a pacy winger who can wreak havoc on a defense with his dribbling and speed and who can score as well.
Verratti has been dubbed as the next Andrea Pirlo and for the Azzurini to win its sixth U-21 title, he will need to play like Pirlo. The 20-year-old PSG player will be playing that creative midfield position where he will be asked to spring and start attacks with pinpoint passing.
He has had some spectacular performances already for the Italy senior national team and in UEFA Champions League. Carrying that over into this tournament will be vital for Italy and if he is able to emulate the bearded maestro, Italy will have a dangerous attack that leads them to winning the competition.
Alcantara comes into the 2013 tournament having been a member of the 2011 Spain team that won. This time around, the Barcelona player will be a vital cog as ‘La Rojita’ seeks to repeat. Alcantara has been dubbed the next Xavi Hernandez for both club and country.
Even in a Spain squad that is loaded with talent, Alcantara is the most important player because of his playmaking ability through his passing and vision.
While there are a number of player performances that will be critical and necessary in order for their respective teams to play well and win the tournament, the three mentioned are a step above. If Zaha, Verratti, and Alcantara are unable to shine and play well, it will be near impossible for England, Italy, or Spain to win despite the talent in their respective squads.