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Camavinga, Wirtz and six NXGN stars to watch in the Under-21 European Championship knockouts

4:00 AM EDT 5/31/21
Florian Wirtz Eduardo Camavinga Brian Brobbey GFX
The quarter-finals of the tournament get under way on Monday as a number of top teenagers aim to shine ahead of the final on June 6

While senior European football may be taking a short break before the start of Euro 2020, some of the continent's top young stars are set to be in action this week as the Under-21 European Championship resumes.

With the tournament split into two parts following the delay to the senior Euros, the group stages took place back in March, with England the major casualty of the group stages.

Now the eight quarter-finalists return to host countries Hungary and Slovenia to play out the knockout stages, with the final set to be played in Ljubljana on Sunday, June 6.

And though some of the players involved are as old as 23, there are a host of NXGN-aged teenagers who could also play a starring role as the competition heads towards its finale...

Yeremy Pino (Spain)

 

Yeremy is eyeing a second major trophy in the space of a couple of weeks after being part of the Villarreal team which beat Manchester United in the 2020-21 Europa League final.

The 18-year-old became the youngest-ever winner of the competition as well as the youngest Spaniard to start a major European final in Gdansk (records that were previously held by Robin van Persie and Iker Casillas, respectively), capping off an excellent breakout season under the tutelage of Unai Emery.

In total the winger scored seven goals in all competitions for the Yellow Submarine, including a strike on the final day of the Liga season that saw him become the youngest player to score an away league goal against Real Madrid this century.

A former target of Barcelona as he was coming through the ranks in his native Tenerife, his game has been likened to that of Arjen Robben, with the natural right-footer keen to cut inside from his preferred position on the left-hand side.

"Yeremy stands out for his character," Villarreal U23s assistant coach, Nando Martinez, told El Pais. "The more difficult the challenge, the more able he is to demonstrate his potential.

"He maintains the essence of when he played on the street as a child. In addition, he lives for football, and every day ensures he has the right complementary training, nutrition and rest."

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Spain's quarter-final opponents, Croatia, can count Josko Gvardiol among their number. The 19-year-old defender, who is set to complete a move to RB Leipzig this summer, has also been named in the senior squad for Euro 2020, such is his potential.

Brian Brobbey (Netherlands)

Brobbey has long been thought of as a potential superstar striker, and if his early displays in the Ajax first team are anything to go by, he looks set to return on that potential.

Despite only starting one game for Erik ten Hag's side in 2020-21, he still finished the season with six goals and two assists to his name after a series of eye-catching substitute performances.

His inability to break into the starting line-up, though, saw him reject the chance to sign a new contract in Amsterdam, and instead agree to join RB Leipzig on a free transfer this summer.

"I would prefer to go to Germany [next], because I think the Bundesliga suits my game best," he told Goal in December ahead of the move being finalised.

"Just like at Ajax, young talents really get the chance there. In England, you can see that another new player is just bought if things go against them, rather than waiting [for them to adapt].”

That transfer could, however, be in jeopardy, with reports claiming that Brobbey is not keen on joining on the Red Bulls now that manager Julian Nagelsmann has left the club, and is hopeful Ajax can negotiate a deal to bring him back to the Johan Cruyff ArenA.

Despite all that, 'the new Romelu Lukaku' is sure to be one to watch as the Oranje look for their first U21 Euros triumph since 2007 this week.

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Brobbey is joined in the Netherlands squad by Ajax team-mate Devyne Rensch, who has emerged as the Eredivisie champions' first-choice right-back in 2020-21. The 18-year-old, who can also play at centre-back, finished the season with six direct goal involvements.

Eduardo Camavinga (France)

One of the tournament's star attractions, there were those who at the start of the season would have expected Camavinga to be with the senior squad this summer rather than the U21s.

Having become France's third-youngest debutant and second-youngest goalscorer during the autumn, the midfielder looked nailed on to be named in Didier Deschamps' squad.

A disappointing second half of the campaign, though, means the 18-year-old will have to make do with playing a key role for the tournament favourites over the next seven days.

That said, there will still likely be plenty of top clubs keeping track of his progress, with a bidding war set to break out between Europe's biggest clubs this summer as they aim to strike a deal with Rennes for the NXGN 2021 runner-up.

"Being the best midfielder in the world, that’s how I see his future, [with] a lot of medals and a lot of trophies," his agent, Jonathan Barnett, told Goal in February as reports of Real Madrid's interest began to intensify.

Bayern Munich have also been heavily linked with him in recent months, and as such his every touch in the coming days is set to be scrutinised around the continent.

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Camavinga is not the only NXGN 2021 alumnus in the France squad, with Paris Saint-Germain striker Arnaud Kalimuendo having been called up following a breakout season on loan at Lens where he scored eight goals and laid on six assists for one of Ligue 1's surprise packages.

Francisco Conceicao (Portugal)

Conceicao has already broken one record at this tournament, after becoming Portugal's youngest-ever goalscorer at an U21 Euros during their win over Switzerland in the group stages.

That goal came amid a breakout period for the 18-year-old, who only made his first-team debut for Porto in February but went on to make 17 appearances for the senior side before the end of the season.

The son of Porto manager Sergio Conceicao, Francisco (otherwise known as 'Chico') has been likened to Lionel Messi in the past for his dribbling ability and willingness to cut inside onto his left foot when playing off the right flank.

"Francisco is similar to Messi," ex-Porto defender Eduardo Luis told Record. "To compare him with someone well-known, it is with Messi.

"The kid has all the conditions to become a great player."

The former Sporting C.P. academy star certainly looks set to return on that potential, having already become the second-youngest Porto player to appear in the Champions League.

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Conceicao will be joined in Portugal's attack by Tiago Tomas, with the 18-year-old striker having played a key role in Sporting's first title win since 2002. His performances have since seen him linked with a move to Arsenal.

Florian Wirtz (Germany)

Wirtz was not part of the Germany squad for the group stages as he was instead part of the senior squad, having received his first call-up from Joachim Low for March's World Cup qualifiers.

There is even an argument to suggest that had Thomas Muller not been recalled for the first time in three years, Wirtz would have remained with Low's squad for Euro 2020 this summer.

As it is, the Bayer Leverkusen attacker will look to lead Germany to glory in the coming days after a superb first full season in the Bundesliga.

The 18-year-old, who placed sixth on the 2021 NXGN list, finished the campaign with eight goals and eight assists in all competitions, earning himself a new five-year contract in the process.

Wirtz, who usurped Kai Havertz when he became Leverkusen's youngest-ever player last season, has stepped seamlessly into the playmaker's shoes at the BayArena, showing exactly why Liverpool and Bayern Munich were keen to sign him as he came through the academy system at Koln.

Now, with Youssoufa Moukoko ruled out through injury, he will be Germany's star attraction in their quarter-final meeting against Denmark.

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Another new addition to the Germany squad for the knockout rounds is pacey forward Karim Adeyemi, who played a key role in Red Bull Salzburg defending their Bundesliga crown. The 19-year-old, who is yet to be capped at U21 level, finished the season with nine goals and 11 assists in all competitions for Jesse Marsch's side.

Wahid Faghir (Denmark)

Having become the youngest player to represent Denmark at U21 level during the group stages, Faghir will be hopeful of leading the line once more as they head into the knockout stages.

The highly-rated 17-year-old has been linked with a host of top European clubs after impressing in his homeland for Vejle.

He has even been likened to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, both for his excellence in front of goal as well as the arrogance in which he plays despite his tender years.

"Faghir is a fast forward, technically good, has game intelligence and also participates in defensive work," Steen Tychosen, the head of Vejle's academy, said when Faghir signed his first professional contract as a 15-year-old in 2018.

"Wahid has many strengths and has tremendous confidence in his own abilities. There is a bit of Zlatan in him, because he plays with great self-confidence in training and in matches."

A veteran of 40 first-team matches already, do not expect Faghir to be overawed as the tournament heads towards its conclusion.

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Faghir is not the only teenager to form part of Denmark's forward line, with FC Copenhagen starlet Mohamed Daramy also set for a key role in attack. The 19-year-old has contributed 12 goals and seven assists to his club's cause over the past two seasons, leading him to be linked with Liverpool and RB Leipzig.