Euro 2016: In star-studded tournament, seven youngsters to watch out for
The 2016 edition of UEFA European Championship will be a perfect setting for many starlets to showcase their talent. Here are some young, unheralded players who can steal the show this summer in France.
1. Lucas Vazquez, 24, forward, Spain
The notable absence of a certain Brazil-born Diego Costa and of course, old war horse in Fernando Torres forced many to challenge Vicente del Bosque's team selection, as the two-time defending champions Spain lacked muscle-power upfront.
But the selection of uncapped Lucas Vazquez, still a young prospect at 24 years, seemed to have provided del Bosque an alternative. The Real Madrid starlet has done well for the club in the limited chances that Zinedine Zidane has given him so far, including the one against city rivals Atletico in the UEFA Champions League final at Milan.
And with pace and talent, Vazquez can be one of the break-out stars.
2. Marcus Rashford, 18, forward, England
Not a single player has managed to steal the show like Marcus Rashford in the last six months. The 18-year-old, yet supremely physical, is already a nightmare for many defenders.
His rise through Manchester United's youth ranks to become the obvious front-man for England's most successful club speaks volumes of his abilities.
For the record, Rashford scored for the club in his debut - both in the Premier League and in the Europa League, as well as on his national debut. He will be eager to prove a point or two when the Three Lions take field in France.
3. Dele Alli, 20, midfielder, England
Another England starlet who is making all the right noises is Dele Alli. He arrived at Tottenham Hotspur in February 2015 from third-division club MK Dons, and by the end of the season, he was England's young player of the year.
His midfield display allowed English fans to once again dream of many good things. In fact, his marshalling in the midfield was one of the reasons for Spurs' title challenge last season, even though they made a mess of it towards the business end.
His fortunes will be directly linked with that of England's and Roy Hodgson will not hesitate to give this extremely talented player a free run.
4. Samuel Umtiti, 22, defender, France
Talking about talent, this French defender at 22 years has already become a hot target for some of the biggest clubs, including Barcelona. His stint at the Ligue 1 outfit Lyon, has helped the Cameroon-born player to bloom his talent.
But it was down to luck for him to get the national call up, for France — his adopted country. Injuries to established defenders like Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu gave Didier Deschamps a chance to try out Umtiti.
And the versatile defender will fight against many more established players for a place in starting XI as hosts France hope to win their third continental title, at home.
5. Renato Sanches, 18, midfielder, Portugal
Affectionately called "Bulo" by his team-mates, this 18-year-old has already taken Portugal by storm, after becoming the youngest ever player to be called up for a major tournament with the senior squad. Yes, the record previously belonged to Cristiano Ronaldo.
His meteoric rise, like those of Rashford and Alli, is being hailed as the reward for hard work. After impressing many at the troubled Lisbon neighbourhood, he joined Benfica youth team. Then within a couple of years, he joined Bayern Munich, for 35 million euros in May 2016.
A disciplined defensive mid-fielder, Sanches will be a tough opponent for many stars this summer.
6. Leroy Sane, 20, midfielder, Germany
Born to a sporting family, Leroy Sane made his international debut last year. His exploits in the German Bungesliga and UEFA Champions League also forced Joachim Loew to select the midfielder for Euro 2016.
After a series of good performances as a winger, Loew experimented with the team and shifted Sane in the centre behind the striker as a attacking play-maker. The nimble-footed Sane is waiting for a big platform to announce his arrival at the world stage. The 20-year-old Schalke player did famously score against Real Madrid in their Champions League match last year.
He is the son of former Senegal star Souleyman Sane, and Germany's Olympic rhythmic gymnastics medalist Regina Weber.
7. Federico Bernardeschi, 22, midfielder, Italy
The 22-year-old play-maker is considered one of the 'brightest talents' in Italian soccer, and his national call-up, by none other than Antonio Conte, totally justifies that tag.
Known as the Phenomenon, Federico Bernardeschi had a good season with Fiorentina, and if he manages to combine with the likes of Lorenzo Insigne and Stephan El Shaarawy, Italy can improve an otherwise lacklustre continental performance this term.
Bernardeschi's efficient work ethic on either flank might just help his cause further.
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