Sergio Asenio (Spain) – Pulled off several heroic saves in the second half to preserve Spain’s clean-sheet against Germany, frustrating Ozil especially. The Valladolid keeper has already come to the attention of several of Europe’s biggest clubs, with Manchester United touted to be keeping tabs on the 19-year-old.
Marco Motta (Italy) – The right-back had an excellent game in the Italian defence marshalling the back line thoroughly, as well as choosing his moments carefully to push forward to support the attack. Was taken off after 70 minutes, but his withdrawal was actually confirmation of how much effort Motta had put in down that side, as he came off shattered. Had spoken pre-tournament of his determination to put right a disappointing Italy performance of two years ago – it showed.
Micah Richards (England) – Was part of an England defence that at times was given the run around by the less-fancied Finns, but as the match wore on Richards in particular managed to gain a degree of control. He also coped well with the loss of partner Mancienne, and adjusted to several different faces in the defence. With Mancienne now suspended, England will be relying on Richards to become the fulcrum of the defence against Spain; it will be interesting to see how he manages.
Benedikt Howedes (Germany) – The young Schalke defender added to his burgeoning reputation contributing fully to the well deserved German clean-sheet against one of the pre-tournament favourites. Both he and Boateng played outstandingly against Spain, but Howedes just gets the nod for a heroic block late on in the game to deny a chance that would surely have settled the affair in Spain’s favour. The withdrawal of Krkic with 13 minutes to go was an indication of just how well both he and Boateng performed.
Nikola Petkovic (Serbia) – The pick of the Serbian defenders, who all played excellently to hold Italy to a draw in their opening game. The left-back only came in as a late replacement for the injured Obradovic, but fully justified his position holding the line well, and getting forward to try and support the attack.
Rasmus Elm (Sweden) – returned from the senior team to bolster the Swedish midfield down the right hand side. Still plying his trade in Sweden with Kalmar, more performances like this will see Elm picked up surely by a larger Western European team. He showed some fine movement and appreciation of when to drift into the middle and when to hold his position on the flank. His equaliser got Sweden out of a sticky situation, and also deserves credit for a well judged through ball for Berg’s third over the top of a static Belarus defence.
Gojko Kacar (Serbia) – the Hertha Berlin midfielder was touted as one of the players to watch pre-tournament, and didn’t fail to live up to his billing. Was incredibly unlucky to see his attempted scissor kick rebound off the post in the second half, a goal that had it gone in would have been an early contender for the strike of the tournament.
Sergei Kislyak (Belarus) - outshone his highly-rated colleague Kryvets in the midfield and was the one bright light in a very dissapointing opening matchday one for Belarus. Whilst some might feel that his strike for the opening goal was a touch fortunate, he was unlucky not to get a second on two occasions when letting fly from long range. Set up several other attacks for Belarus later in the game, attempting to instigate a one-man fight back in the second half that was brutally crushed by two late goals from the Swedes.
Berat Sadik (Finland) – didn’t get a goal against England, and although he missed a few good chances, also showed he has plenty of raw talent. Strong and determined, Sadik didn’t give the English defence a moment’s rest. The Spanish and German defences have been warned: they’ll be in for a tough game when they come up against Sadik.
Marcus Berg (Sweden) – arguably the player of the round, returned to the U21 team in a blaze of glory, grabbing a hat-trick and putting the Belarus defence to the sword. Took a few moments to get into his stride alongside Toivonen, but gave the highly-rated Verkovtsov a torrid time after that. Outstanding movement to the flanks, he also contributed several decent passes to set others up as well as taking his own three goals wonderfully. If Berg can maintain this level of performance throughout the tournament Sweden are definite contenders for outright glory.
Mesut Ozil (Germany) – highly-rated Werder schemer had an excellent game against Spain and was only denied by a couple of saves from Asenio that almost defied logic. Was willing to pick the ball up and run at and commit defenders as well as linking up thoughtfully with Dejageh up front. The Spanish defence will be relieved to have seen the last of him, for now, at least.
Walter Townsend, Goal.com