If you’re good enough, you’re old enough – a cliché that feels as though it has been around as long as association football itself. But regardless of how tired a refrain it can sometimes sound, the adage holds true because it is rooted in the essence of the game.

One of the most uplifting spectacles of the game we love is when a young player is given an opportunity, and grasps it with both hands.

The international stage has long been home to such stories; from a 17-year-old Pelé who stole the show at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, through to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo in Euro 2004 – when the eyes of the world are watching, the fearlessness of youth comes to the fore.

And in France this month, the UEFA European Championship could be host to another, if not several more, of these fairytale rises, particularly as there is a handful of youthful prospects who are considered surprise inclusions in their nation’s squad.

Marcus Rashford (England)

England’s Marcus Rashford is one such case. The 18-year-old Manchester United striker has enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom. Having only made his professional debut in February, England manager Roy Hodgson had previously stated that he would not be considering the inexperienced youngster.

But Rashford just kept doing what he does: influencing high-stakes games with crucial goals and masterful performances. And after a virtuoso display in May’s FA Cup final, Hodgson could no longer deny Rashford, and pencilled the teenager into his provisional Euros squad. A debut international goal in a friendly against Australia effectively assured the United man of his place in the final selection.

Emre Mor (Turkey)

Although born in Denmark and having played in the Danish under-19 side, 18-year-old winger Emre Mor has elected to represent Turkey at full international level.

Mor made his professional debut in November 2015 and, despite playing on 13 times at senior level last season, has recently been snapped up by Borussia Dortmund. So impressive has the tricky wideman been in his fledgling carer that he was included in Turkey’s Euro 2016 squad, and has already featured in two preparatory friendlies.

Though unlikely to start due to Turkey’s abundance of quality attacking midfielders, Mor has shown his readiness to contribute at the highest level, and will not be overawed if given the chance to show what he can do.

Oleksandr Zinchenko (Ukraine)

Oleksandr Zinchenko made his Ukraine debut against reigning European Champions Spain in October 2015, and in his second international appearance, the 19-year-old attacking midfielder became his country’s youngest ever goal-scorer, breaking the record previously held by the legendary Andriy Shevchenko.

The Ufa player is thought to be a target for Manchester City, as new boss Pep Guardiola overhauls his squad. But City will want to move quick to tie up a deal because Zinchenko’s star could be about to rise in France, and his price tag will follow suit.

Mariusz Stępiński (Poland)

Having represented Poland at every youth level – including playing a key role in his country’s run to the under-17 European Championship semi-final in 2012 – Mariusz Stępiński’s senior career did not take off as expected. The six-foot tall striker scored five goals in his two seasons at Widzew Łódź and, after being signed by Nurenburg and loaned out, only two in 25 appearances for Wisła Kraków.

But last season, after joining Ruch Chorzów, Stępiński came to life, scoring 15 goals and registering two assists in 36 appearances.

At Euro 2016, the 21-year-old will be deputy to Poland’s first-choice strikers Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik, and will be champing at the bit to show that he can translate his new-found club form into goals at international level.

Ante Ćorić (Croatia)

Many people were surprised to see that Barcelona’s teenage prodigy Alen Halilović was omitted from Croatia’s final squad for the Euros, especially following his impressive season on loan at Sporting Gijón in La Liga. But national team coach Ante Čačić opted to select a different 19-year-old in one of his attacking midfield berths.

Ante Ćorić was the man chosen, and not without good reason. The Dinamo Zagreb midfielder played 41 times last season, scoring five goals and assisting a further three. Despite his tender years, Ćorić has experience of playing at the highest level in the Champions League, so there will be no questions of his temperament at the Euros.

West Ham United are thought to be weighing up a £10 million offer for Ćorić, who, if given the chance to play alongside Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakiti in the Croatia midfield, will hope to prove himself deserving of such a price tag.

Milan Škriniar (Slovakia)

Sampdoria defender Milan Škriniar made his Slovakia debut against Georgia on 27 May this year,. Then, just three days later, Ján Kozák named the 21-year-old in his 23-man Euro 2016 squad.

Škriniar, a physically imposing centre-back, joined Sampdoria from Slovan Bratislava in January, and has only made three appearances for the Italian club. But with 77 appearances for Žilina in the Slovakian league already under his belt, as well as 14 under-21 caps, Kozák trusts Škriniar to add solidarity to his side’s back-line.

The expanded 24-team format of Euro 2016 has enabled nations who wouldn’t normally stand a chance of qualifying, to have their shot at tournament football.

And just as there will be lesser-established teams ruffling the feathers of their higher-level counterparts, there will also be a cast of young players, many of whom are far from household names, ready to snatch their chance at stardom.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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Serie A has, in recent times, become an increasingly multinational league. For the first time in the league’s history, the 2015-16 season saw a match without Italian players in the starting lineups when Inter Milan took on Udinese in April. It comes as no surprise then that, despite the growth of this summer’s European Championships to accommodate 24 teams, over half of the nations involved will feature a player based in Italy.

Here we take a look at six Serie A players who are set to break out on the international stage for the first time at Euro 2016.

Federico Bernardeschi (Italy)

For the first six months of last season, Fiorentina were not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams to watch in Serie A, but were considered contenders for the Scudetto. Under Paulo Sousa’s auspices the Viola played beautiful passing football based on strong combination play and, while their title hopes ultimately proved optimistic, hope for the future was ensured through the individual displays of Federico Bernardeschi.

The 22-year-old showcased extraordinary tactical intelligence and versatility, playing in attacking midfield, on the wing and at both left and right wing-back, all while dazzling with his flitting dribbling skills. A fluid runner on the ball with a refined left foot, Bernardeschi made his Italy debut earlier this year and, in an Azzurri side bereft of top class strike options, his cutting movement and creativity could prove crucial to unlocking opposition defences.

Oscar Hiljemark (Sweden)

After failing to make much of an impact in Dutch football with PSV Eindhoven, Oscar Hiljemark joined Sicilian side Palermo for the relatively small fee of £1.88 million last summer. He arrived having just captained Sweden to 2015 European Under-21 Championship victory and wasted no time establishing himself with the Rosanero.

The 23-year-old central midfielder showed a good engine and a willingness to drive forward and support attacks, scoring four goals and assisting five while appearing in every single one of Palermo’s 38 Serie A fixtures. That form prompted Sweden manager Erik Hamren to recall the player into the national team fold, where he has retained his place for Euro 2016. In a team that relies heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s link-up play, Hiljemark’s runs behind opposition lines could come in handy.

Elseid Hysaj (Albania)

It’s fair to say that most spectators expect Albania to be one of this summer’s primary whipping boys, with Gianni De Biasi’s side drawn in a tough group alongside hosts France, as well as Switzerland and Romania. However, the quality of the Albanian squad is not to be dismissed out of hand; they have some highly gifted players in their ranks, and Elseid Hysaj is arguably the best of the lot.

The 22-year-old arrived at Napoli last summer as he followed coach Maurizio Sarri from Empoli. And, early in the campaign, it became clear that he would be occupying the team’s right-back position ahead of the more experienced Cristian Maggio. A solid defensive full-back and a direct runner in the attacking phase, Hysaj has since emerged as one of the best young players in the league, and his performances this summer could go a long way to deciding whether Albania’s defence holds up to the rigorous scrutiny of a major international finals.

Ciprian Tatarusanu (Romania)

When Norberto Neto departed for Juventus last summer, Fiorentina already had a more than adequate goalkeeping replacement lined up in Ciprian Tatarusanu. The towering 6’6” Romanian had alternated with Neto the previous season and took no time adjusting to being a first team regular in 2015-16. With good reactions and strong shot-stopping combined with a composed presence on the ball, he was a perfect fit for Paulo Sousa’s style of play, building out from the back.

The 30-year-old has never been to an international tournament before, but he is integral to Romania’s chances of surprising at Euro 2016; he kept seven clean sheets in qualification and was named his country’s footballer of the year in 2015. Building on a good season at club level, Tatarusanu could use this summer as a stepping stone to bigger things late in his career.

Sime Vrsaljko (Croatia)

Sassuolo’s sixth-place Serie A finish and subsequent qualification for next season’s Europa League was one of the main storylines in a thrilling 2015-16 campaign, and Sime Vrsaljko was one of the main protagonists in its development. The Croatian right-back was in superb form for the Neroverdi, encompassing all that is expected of the modern full-back.

Wearing his team’s number 11 shirt, his attacking surges, overlapping and underlapping, dribbling and crossing were key components in Sassuolo’s attacking play, and as a result the likes of Napoli and Liverpool have been linked with the 24-year-old. With captain Darijo Srna set to start at right-back for Croatia this summer, Vrsaljko will have to bide his time or take up the left-back role, but either way it’s hard to imagine him not making a mark on this summer’s tournament.

Piotr Zielinski (Poland)

After breaking into Udinese’s first team as a teenager several years ago, Piotr Zielinski seemed to struggle under the weight of expectation that comes with being a highly rated, and sought after, prospect. That was until the 2015-16 season, where he shone at Empoli under the watchful eye of Swiss coach Marco Giampaolo.

Playing on the right of a diamond midfield, the 22-year-old’s energy, dynamism and creativity were vital to his team’s ability to build good possession and progress the ball into attacking areas. His form with the Tuscan club deservedly led to a recall into the Poland national team who, under Adam Nawalka, qualified for Euro 2016 from a tough group featuring Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. The Poles are seen as one of the dark horses for this summer’s tournament, and Zielinski could be their breakout star.

About the author – Blair Newman

Blair a freelance football writer with experience of working for some well-known publications, including FourFourTwo, Squawka and Bleacher Report. His main passions are Italian football and football tactics, and he also takes a keen interest in the major European leagues and international football in general.

twitter: @TheBlairNewman


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With the domestic season coming to a close across Europe, attention and anticipation is beginning to turn to the upcoming European Championship in France.

The tournament, which takes place every four years, will commence on 10 June in the Stade de France, as the host nation take on Romania.

Didier Deschamps’s side are the current favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy when the competition closes on 10 July. Other fancied teams include reigning champions Spain, World Cup winners Germany and the usual cast of established footballing nations like Italy, Belgium and England.

This year’s incarnation of the tournament will, for the first time, feature an expanded cast of 24 nations, opposed to the usual 16. This has meant that some countries who usually fall in the qualifying stage, will now be represented in the finals.

The greater number of teams means that there is added potential for some giant-killing upsets. And aside from the odd freak result that often occurs during knockout competitions, there are a few teams who could be considered dark horses, with the potential to go further than many would expect.


This Austria side is one built on solidity. Having qualified unbeaten (nine wins and one draw) and top of a group which included Russia, Sweden and Montenegro, Marcel Koller’s men conceded only three goals.

Despite still being only 23-years-old, Bayern Munich player David Alaba has already amassed 42 caps for the Austrian national side. The Vienna-born star is undoubtedly Austria’s key man. Despite playing as a left-back with his club – and being perhaps the best player in the world in that position – Koller has utilised Alaba in the centre of midfield. This has proven to be a shrewd move, as Alaba possesses all of the requisite technical ability to operate as a midfielder, and his energy and experience has driven Austria to Euro 2016 qualification.

Ahead of Alaba, the main creative force of Koller’s side is Werder Bremen playmaker Zlatko Junuzović. The 28-year-old former Austria Wien player acts as the main supply-line to FC Basel forward Marko Janko, who was his nation’s top scorer in qualifying with seven goals.

Austria’s Group F opponents Portugal, Iceland and Hungary should provide little resistance to their progression to the knockout stages, at which point they will be a side no one will relish facing.


Chris Coleman’s Wales side is designed with the express intention of squeezing every last drop of productivity from their star man, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale.

Although the Welsh Dragons can rely on the likes of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Swansea City’s Ashley Williams to add quality and experience, Bale is their not-so-secret weapon.

The 26-year-old former Tottenham Hotspur player, since progressing from left-back in his early career, has largely been a winger at club level for some time now. But Coleman has constructed a system which gives Bale licence to roam, finding space and causing damage wherever he sees fit.

And the move has been an unqualified success, as Bale netted seven goals during qualification to fire Wales to their first major tournament since 1958.

In their group, Wales will face off against England Russia and Slovakia. Despite having the competitions fourth favourites England to contend with, this Welsh side, powered by the irrepressible Bale, will fancy their chances.


Poland boast the top scorer through all of qualification among their ranks, and arguably the deadliest marksman on the planet. Bayern Munich’s 27-year-old striker Robert Lewandowski is set to take the European Championship by storm this summer, coming off the back of the most productive season of his career.

The former Borussia Dortmund striker has (at the time of writing) scored 41 times in 49 games this season. Lewandowski is the complete striker: he’s fast, moves intelligently, heads well, can sniff out tap-ins and score from any angle.

Backed up by the likes of Dortmund pair Jakub Błaszczykowski (who spent this season on loan at Fiorentina), Łukasz Piszczek and Sevilla’s sought after defensive midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, Lewandowski can rely on a strong supporting cast.

Having progressed from what was widely considered the toughest of all the qualifying groups (their opponents included world champions Germany, Scotland and Ireland), Poland will be unafraid of their Group C rivals in the finals. They will again face Germany, as well as Northern Ireland and Ukraine. A difficult task, but with Bayern’s number 9 up front, Poland will be confident that they can score against anyone.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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Part 2 of Tom Curren’s “Predicting the Breakout Stars of Euro 2016” series, and he highlights three more players to watch. If you’ve not read Part 1 then we recommend reading it.

Jonathan Tah (Germany)

Jonathan Tah has been labelled many things during his short career, but perhaps the most eccentric title he’s attracted is ‘the future of defending’.

Though lofty words to live up to and high praise indeed, they are accurately awarded; the Bayer Leverkusen and Germany centre-half is already one of the most assured, confident and powerful ball-playing defenders in European football. 2015/16 has been the season during which he’s risen to prominence at club level, and it’s very likely that he’ll be involved in France as a result.

Jogi Low will look to Tah’s performances against Barcelona in the Champions League as a clear indicator of the big man’s ability to shut down the very best in the world; a trait that may well come in handy if the favourites do go as deep into the tournament as most expect them to.

The loss of Per Mertesacker has left a gaping hole in Germany’s back line and, with the very real possibility of Low deploying a couple of his more experienced centre-halves as full-backs, it would not be at all surprising to see Tah slot into the World Champion’s first-team plans this summer.

Bartosz Kapustka (Poland)

Poland are going into this tournament with a confidence that has gone somewhat under the radar, and rightly so. Though most people talk copiously about the unearthed talents of nations like Croatia and Ukraine, Poland are hiding a number of really promising youngsters in their ranks too; primary amongst them being Bartosz Kaputska.

Kaputska is yet to really make a splash in Europe at club level. Though his side KS Cracovia are the oldest club in Poland they haven’t come close to matching the giddy heights of Legia Warsaw in recent years, meaning Kaputska is still a relative unknown outside of his country of birth.

That might be to his advantage. It’s looking increasingly likely that the skilful midfielder will be a part of Poland’s first-team plans in France, and a run of top-class performances from the teenager might see him rocket up Europe’s property ladder as the find of the tournament.

Next to Gregorz Krychowiak in the heart of Poland’s midfield, Kaputska will have the perfect platform to demonstrate his playmaking abilities. Though still just 19, the Pole’s ability to run a game is impressive; his final ball is excellent, as is his general passing range and appreciation of space. Though Poland don’t have the easiest group in the tournament, they’d be missing a trick if they didn’t take a risk and give this talented teenager a run in midfield.

Nico Elvedi (Switzerland)

Borussia Monchengladbach are well known in recent years for finding and nurturing young talents, and in their last couple of Bundesliga games a new name has bubbled to the surface; Nico Elvedi, a teenage centre-half from Switzerland.

Elvedi’s breakthrough into Monchengladbach’s first eleven has coincided with his first couple of call-ups to the Swiss national side, a clear indicator that the inexperienced youngster might be in Vladimir Petkovi‘s plans for the European Championships.

One thing is for certain; Petković needs to do something to alter his sides fortunes before they head to the tournament. Though Switzerland managed to qualify, they look like a team in really poor shape. Unless they very quickly find a way to improve on their two recent friendly defeats to Ireland and Bosnia & Herzegovina, they might find the tournament a very sorry affair indeed.

The answer, as is so often the case, might be to hand some of the younger players a chance. Switzerland have talent in droves; Breel Embolo and Shani Tarashaj are both comfortably good enough to start at the tournament, whilst Elvedi might now be another name for Petković to consider.

About the author – Tom Curren

Writer & freelancer. Author & editor of scoutedfootball.com, a website dedicated to comprehensively profiling those whom the mainstream football media might miss.

twitter: @tomocurr


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He has scored 16 goals this season, he’s 1.86 metres tall, he’s Polish, he has great shooting and finishing ability: he may not be Lewandowski, but at 22 years-old he has the potential to be considered amongst the best strikers in Europe.

Milik has developed into a hot prospect since signing for Ajax and he is continuing to show all of the qualities needed to be a top striker for many years to come. His former teams Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg didn’t believe in him. And two seasons later he is proving them wrong, having just scored against PSV, in the match between two Dutch giants, putting Ajax in pole position to claim the Eredivisie title.

He’s predominantly an old-style centre forward, however he does possess the technical qualities and versatility to shine in the modern game. He is physically imposing and is a great aerial talent. Not only is he a threat in the air, but he has also scored a number or great volleys.  He has wonderful finishing and passing ability and has contributed 16 goals and 8 assists this season in the Eredivisie. He also displays  good positioning and teamwork,  and is not afraid to help his team defend. An outstanding player for his fair play too: referees have shown to him just 3 yellow card this season.

His only weakness is his mentality: he’s composed and brave, but he has to be more aggressive, to improve his ball stealing qualities and tackling. He could develop some technical attributes such as his free kicks and long range passing, however the main qualities of his role are at his disposal.

Finding the right striker in Soccer Manager to spearhead your attack is crucial

At the age of 20, he outperformed what the former Ajax strikers Ibrahimovic and Suarez did at the same age, proving his fantastic qualities as a forward. Now the rumours about a transfer to Inter Milan are very persistent, assuming, as expected Mauro Icardi moves on to pastures new: would Milik be the ideal replacement? In the recent past Arsenal and Leicester scouted him too.

Don Balòn put him in the best talent list for 2015: as with a lot of Ajax youngsters who have risen from Netherlands’ best academy (and one of Europe’s best too).

Milik has been called by the Polish National team and joined Lewandowski in a sensational attacking duo. He first played for the national team in 2012 at the age of  19 years old. Since then he has played 22 matches and scored 10 goals. This year we’ll surely see him in Euro 2016: in his group are the World Champions (Germany), Ukraine and North Ireland. He has a great chance to show his talent and will be helped by some top players such as Lewandowski, Krychowiak and Blaszczykowski.

He’s young, still underrated and it’s only a matter of time before he will be considered amongst the best forwards in Europe. His qualities as a classical forward mixed with his modern football technical qualities mean he could be the perfect transfer target for an Italian or English team.

At the age of 22, he is ready to play in a top team, although as pointed out he is nowhere near the finished article and has to improve some aspects of his game. Will he stay and continue his development at Ajax or seek a new challenge sooner.  For example, Luis Suarez was 24 when he decided to leave the Dutch giants for the Premier League, in order to complete his development. Zlatan Ibrahimovic decided instead to part from the team at the same age that Milik is now. Which choice would be the best one for the Polish young star? Of course he looks more like Ibrahimovic for his qualities, but may Suarez choice be the best for Arkadiusz?

Good luck for your career, Milik!

About the author – Marco Santanche

Marco was born in Rome and supports Inter because of Luiz Nazario da Lima Ronaldo. He is a Brazilian citizen because of his father’s roots. He played futsal for several years, even in the FIGC (Italian FA) as a winger, playmaker and striker. He is now studying for a degree in finance.



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