European U-21 Championships Debate: The Team Of The Tournament

As usual the tournament has thrown up some surprises and also given some great pointers to future stars of the game. offers the team of the tournament.


Manuel Neuer (Germany) – The German keeper just edges out Joe Hart for his excellent performances between the sticks throughout the tournament. The Schalke goalkeeper was most prominent during the first half against Spain and the second half against Italy, in which he played his part by keeping a clean-sheet. The German victory was built from the back largely thanks to the solid foundation provided by Neuer. His style, especially against Italy, may have veered alarmingly towards the unorthodox, but generally an excellent tournament and fully merits his place in the Team of the Tournament.


Marco Motta (Italy) – In truth, most of the Italian defence were in the running for inclusion in the Team of the Tournament, but right-back Motta just stands out above the others. His ceaseless running in getting forward to support the attack was a key facet of the Italian play as they reached the semi-finals. He was withdrawn in the second half against both Serbia and Germany, not because of a failure to perform, but because he simply had nothing left physically to offer the team. Motta spoke pre-tournament of his desire to put right recent Italian disappointments at this level, and it showed on the pitch.

Benedikt Hoewedes (Germany) – The second Schalke player to make the Team of the Tournament indicates what fine work must be going on behind the scenes at the Veltins Arena. Scored the clinching goal to get Germany into the tournament, and also a crucial goal against Finland as Germany laboured in the group stages. Played both in midfield and defence. He was a calming presence and an excellent distributor of the ball, who was largely dominant in the air. After breaking into the Schalke first-team last season, is certain to make a massive impact in the 2009-10 Bundesliga season. 

Micah Richards (England) – The forgotten man of the England senior team, the Manchester City defender restored his reputation with an excellent tournament after an erratic season in the Premier League. Showed that he has the intelligence to play centre-back, and at times held the England defence together, especially during the aerial onslaught the Finns laid upon the Young Lions in the first match as his colleagues around him floundered. It was also noticeable that as soon as he was asked to press forward against Germany in the final, England immediately conceded another goal. With all the coming and going at Eastlands over the summer, he may be deemed surplus to requirements at Manchester City, but there will be no shortage of suitors if Mark Hughes opts to sell him.

Emil Johansson (Sweden) – A number of excellent performances at left-back throughout the tournament have earned Johansson a place in the Team of the Tournament. Like right-back colleague Lustig, was reliable in defence and got forward well, especially against Serbia, against whom he took care of Sulejmani effectively and broke forward well on several occasions. The Hammarby defender returns to the Allsvenskan, but for how long remains to be seen after his excellent contribution to Sweden’s run to the semi-finals.


Rasmus Elm (Sweden) – One of three footballing brothers, all of whom have made it into the professional ranks, but widely touted of the trio to be the most talented. Elm was happy to return to the U-21 team, in notable contrast to some other senior players in the tournament, and was excellent on the right, and later, on the left side of midfield. He got involved with play by drifting into the middle, giving space to the full-backs to push on, and also linked up thoughtfully with Berg and Toivonen.  Elm remains under contract to Kalmar, whom he helped to Allsvenskan glory, but surely a move abroad beckons.

Fabrice Muamba (England) – The defensive midfielder showed that he certainly has the quality to succeed at the highest level and was arguably England’s most consistent midfield performer. He screened the defence, as well as getting England moving forward, from a deep position, often opting for the simple, but effective, pass to the likes of Noble. Muamba also got forward to support when possible, and though he didn’t get himself on the score-sheet, caused consternation with his arrivals in the opposition box. 

Luca Cigarini (Italy) – A number of the Italian midfielders could lay claim to a spot in the Team of the Tournament, but Cigarini just pips them for his ability to combine attacking play with a willingness to get back and defend. A genuine box-to-box midfielder, his effectiveness increased in line with the responsibility given, and the Atalanta midfielder appears to have an exciting future ahead of him. 

Mesut Ozil (Germany) – Probably the stand-out player of the tournament, the Werder Bremen schemer was pivotal to all that was positive for Germany. Served notice of his intention right from the outset by being the most dangerous German player against Spain. Used more on the left by Thomas Schaaf at Bremen last season, now that Diego has moved, on the Werder fans must be excited at the prospect of seeing Ozil unleash his full potential. Genius passing, menacing dead-balls, well-timed runs into the box and an eye for goal make Ozil the complete attacking midfielder. 


Sebastian Giovinco (Italy) – Admittedly a team with Ozil and Giovinco on the pitch would look rather odd, but a Team of the Tournament wouldn’t be complete without the genial attacker for Italy. His thrusting runs forward with the ball and excellent delivery from wide meant that the Juve man was always the heart of the Italians' creativity. Certainly one of the Azzurrini who could be expecting a promotion into the senior team for the World Cup in the wake of their failure to ignite in the Confederations Cup. He’s tipped to have a great future in the game, but needs to build on this performance by claiming a first team spot in the Juventus starting XI next season. 

Marcus Berg (Sweden) – Top scorer in the tournament and a constant threat to opposition defences. Berg showed no preciousness after returning from the senior team, quickly harmonising with his team-mates, especially forward colleague Toivonen. Berg’s runs into the box, quick-fire shooting and willingness to show for the ball by going deep or drifting wide gave defences throughout the tournament a serious headache. Almost individually inspired Sweden’s comeback against England with the goal to make it 3-1. The penalty miss in the shoot-out was only a minor stain on his performance. Currently at Groningen in Holland, half of Europe have seemingly announced their interest in signing him. Just one note of caution: Maceo Rigters. He went one better than Berg by managing eight goals two summers ago for the Netherlands, but this season spent a fruitless spell on loan from Blackburn Rovers in the Championship. Nevertheless, Berg looks to have more than just good form on his side.

Walter Townsend,