The 2017 European U21 Championship was blessed with some truly exceptional individuals. Something that doesn't help when picking a Team of the Tournament.
Germany were crowned champions for just the second time in their history after executing a perfect gameplan to nullify a star-studded Spanish lineup and our selected side reflects the fact that these two teams were arguably the most impressive throughout.
However, it is important to remember that although teams knocked out in the group stages played just three games, those that qualified for the knockout stages only played a maximum of two extra fixtures. When considering the ruthless nature of the tournament itself it's no surprise to see a fair few names from sides that didn't make it to the semi-finals feature in the following team.
With the excuses out of the way, here is Scouted Football's 2017 European U21 Championship Team of the Tournament.
GK: Julian Pollersbeck
Pollersbeck was the most consistent goalkeeper in the tournament. The aura of confidence that surrounds him makes every save he makes and every ball he claims look effortless.
Only conceding one goal in the group stage — a comedy of errors from his teammates that left him with little chance of saving Bernardeschi’s effort — he was also Germany’s penalty shootout hero in the semi-final as he denied both Tammy Abraham and Nathan Redmond to send England out.
Spain had been the most clinical side in the tournament, scoring against every opposition and creating such high quality chances that goalkeepers were left with little they could feasibly do or simply rooted in place by stunning efforts. Pollersbeck proved to be one goalkeeper too far and although the defence in front of him played their part in restricting Spain, when called upon, he was there to frustrate the Spanish attackers.
The only goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet against Spain, Pollersbeck is the obvious choice between the sticks.
RCB: Edgar Ié
Whilst Portugal disappointingly crashed out at in the group stages, perhaps the biggest positive from their short foray in Poland was the performance of their giant centre-back.
Edgar Ié was quite simply a colossus. Portugal conceded five goals in three games and whilst admittedly that seems poor on paper, just watching even one of those three games shows how misleading a reflection of Edgar's talent it really is.
Without him, Portugal may well have conceded more. Towering headers, extendo-leg interceptions, incomprehensible goal-line clearances, Edgar did it all for a Portugal side that was constructed to look pretty in attack yet left their defence out to dry.
Edgar deserves his place in the side without a doubt, Portugal may well have crumbled entirely without him.
CB: Alfie Mawson
Alfie Mawson emerged this season as a key post of Swansea’s back-line - a rather poor defence that he at times, held together.
The Englishman’s U-21 Euro did nothing to dampen his burgeoning reputation. His no-nonsense approach to defending, combined with his imposing physical stature provided a perfect foil to Calum Chambers’ more subtle and technical style - very much in the mould of a Bonucci/Chiellini partnership.
Despite being a hulking and intimidating presence off the ball, Mawson showed he is more than capable with the ball at his feet. Completing 93% of his 168 passes in the tournament, only his partner in crime Calum Chambers accumulated more in the England side.
The set-piece prowess that also characterised his Premier League season was on display in Poland too, as he bundled home a key goal against Slovakia that helped England turn around a 1-0 deficit and win 2-1. A vital member of the England squad at both ends of the pitch.
LCB: Marc-Oliver Kempf
Kempf was ever present in Germany’s starting lineup, playing all 480 minutes of his side’s run to becoming U21 European Champions. Although impressive in the group stages it was in the knockout phase that Germany's No.15 really stood out to us, culminating in a completely dominant performance in the final.
Despite being one of the shorter centre-backs at this tournament, Kempf won a great deal of aerial duels and even proved to be a target man for Germany at set pieces. Counteracting his short stature is his understanding of the game, including great positional sense when his side is on the ball and a unique intelligence to stop counters with vital interceptions or last-ditch blocks.
The 22-year-old proved to be a player for the big occasion, putting in a Scouted Man of the Match performance against Spain in the final. He and Stark bullied Sandro Ramirez out of the game and left their opposition without a target striker to direct play towards.
Kempf seemed to be in the right position at all times: sweeping up through balls, winning crucial tackles and timing his jumps to perfection.
RWB: Jeremy Toljan
It would not be ridiculous to say that Germany's right-back was their most dangerous player. Time and time again the Hoffenheim defender flew forward to offer support to his attacking teammates, and just as often it seemed to be him that carved open the opposition.
His overlapping was flawless, perfectly timed and always effective. He provided the most assists throughout the whole tournament, but inundated his strikers with even more chances than that number suggests.
Scouted Football's second best player of the entire tournament, Toljan was consistently the most impressive player in the title-winning side. It was his speed and width that provided the desired injection of urgency, his forward runs the adrenaline needed to rescue his teammates from defending too deep or losing intensity.
LWB: Federico Bernardeschi
Federico Bernardeschi had an impressive U-21 European Championship.
While he started slowly, the Italian played better with each passing game. His goal against Germany was crucial in qualifying Italy for the knockout stages, while the Fiorentina star’s technique and speed continued to trouble a German defence that was largely dominant all tournament.
Primarily though, it was his tactical flexibility which was the biggest asset he brought to Luigi Di Biagio’s team. Interchanging with wide and central players, Bernardeschi proved almost impossible to mark. This afforded him the opportunity to cut inside from the left when playing from wide, or utilise his playmaking abilities centrally.
His quality from dead-ball situations was also evident. Despite the Italian not being able to score a free-kick, he came close on more than one occasion.
CDM: Marcos Llorente
Tactically, Marcos Llorente was one of the best midfielders at this year’s U21 European Championship. Llorente’s excellent man marking and extensive passing range make him a pest for forwards to avoid and an unexpected danger for the opposition to control when defending
His standout performance in the group stage was against Portugal where he practically marked Bruno Fernandes out of the entire match. Llorente eliminated Portugal’s ability to create quality chances through the middle and instigated his side’s counter attacks after winning possession or picking up a stray pass.
In the knockout stages, Llorente’s footballing IQ allowed Dani Ceballos and Saúl to pick apart Italy’s midfield. If either of his teammates lost possession, he would be just a few yards away ready to sweep away the danger and recycle possession to the next player.
The flair of Llorente’s midfield partners often overshadow the small things he does in midfield, but Spain owe a big part of their second place finish to his performances. Llorente replicates the work of a more athletic Sergio Busquets but with the same brilliant mind for the game.
RCM: Saúl Ñíguez
Golden boot winner, scoring or assisting in every game he played bar the final, Saúl Ñíguez was a class above the rest in Poland.
With the help of some sensational midfielders beside him, the Atletico midfielder was given complete license to wreak havoc. Clinical with his finishing, every goal he scored was a piece of art in itself. Consider as well that each goal he did score was in fact the first of the game.
In matches where Spain struggled to make the breakthrough - dominating possession but perhaps not looking so assured as the numbers suggested - super Saúl arrived time and time and again to save the day.
A bicycle kick to open the floodgates vs Macedonia; a sublime solo effort to kickstart the win vs Portugal; and a rocket to wrestle Italy into submission.
Team of the Tournament ‘keeper Julian Pollersbeck proved to be the final boss he could not defeat, but drawing in a blank in the final should not be used to sully his sensational performances on the whole.
LCM: Dani Ceballos
UEFA’s pick for Player of the Tournament, the Real Betis dynamo just missed out on our combined semi-final XI.
Although impressive in the group stages, his Spanish teammates were perhaps slightly more so. Marcos Llorente was the mighty shield in front of the back four, Saúl was very much the star man and matchwinner whilst Denis Suarez had shown flashes of brilliance that saw him secure a place on the bench.
Fast forward to the semi-final itself however and Dani Ceballos transformed into an otherwordly force. Nutmegging Italian midfielders for fun and quite frankly making very talented players look distinctly average, Dani managed the impossible feat of out-performing a player that scored a hat-trick. In fact, this was perhaps *the* performance of the tournament; especially when considering the phase and the relative quality of opposition.
His skill on the ball is best demonstrated by his frightening dribbling ability. Dani was almost dancing at times, manipulating the ball and bamboozling defenders with subtle steps, silky feints and mind-bending turns. Receiving the ball in the tightest of spaces, Dani Ceballos proved he was able to wriggle free from almost any situation leaving opposition midfielders with one option: bring him down. It’s not at all surprising to dominating the fouls suffered metric.
If he was on the fringes of a similar Scouted team before the semi-final, Spain’s mercurial midfield man used that round of the tournament to firmly establish himself in our final side.
CAM: Enis Bardhi
This Macedonian marvel is likely to be forgone for other big names in similar articles.
A maestro in the 5-0 defeat to Spain - a very flattering scoreline - he was constantly relied upon to create chances, control possession and test the opposition goalkeeper. His striking of the ball was hypnotic and reminiscent of a 2008 Cristiano Ronaldo.
Able to make the ball wobble with his laces or use his instep to place the ball with pinpoint precision, it's quite clear that Enis Bardhi has marvellous technique.
Despite being forced to play slightly deeper for Macedonia — mainly born out of the necessity to give him the ball — Bardhi has all the makings of being a menace further up the pitch. Given how well the Spanish trio performed and the synergy between them, Enis Bardhi has been trusted with a more attacking role in our lineup which he would undoubtedly thrive in.
CF: Marco Asensio
Asensio set the tournament alight with his stupendous hat-trick against Macedonia.
A trio of goals that displayed everything so brilliant about the Real Madrid starlet: jaw-dropping technique and limitless confidence garnished with a deadly concoction of speed and strength when dribbling with the ball.
On reflection this was probably the worst thing Asensio could have done.
In all seriousness, the 21-year-old almost became a victim of his stunning display in the first game of the tournament. The lofty standards set by such an immense debut meant that all other performances were always likely to pale in comparison.
Asensio’s pace, power and technical superiority was evident throughout the tournament. It was almost a shame that his crowning display was his first as it seems to have glossed over the quality of those that followed it.
Pickford did no harm to his own reputation after a £30m move from Sunderland to Everton that was confirmed just before the tournament.
In the first game, his crucial penalty save with the scores locked at 0-0 helped England to a point that allowed them to qualify top of Group A.
Also of note throughout the championship was Pickford’s excellent distribution skills. A pinpoint flat kick launched an attack that led to Demarai Gray’s opening goal in the final group game against Poland.
His constant desire to play the ball with his feet and be as creative as possible despite his place between the sticks led to some errors but the glimpses of world-class distribution completely outshone the few mistakes he did make. Pickford’s confidence and audacity with the ball in his hands or at his feet is infectious.
As mentioned when discussing Alfie Mawson’s starting place in this side, Calum Chambers was England’s most frequent passer in Poland. Yes, for a team that played within itself at times it’s no surprise the central defenders top this particular metric, but that should not be used against the Arsenal man who always looked composed and assured in possession.
More impressive however was his dominance in the air. Without access to such detailed stats from the tournament we cannot provide the exact figure, but it would be a genuine shock not to see Alfie Mawson’s other half towering above his competitors in the rankings.
England’s centre-back partnership was the most impressive part of their run to the semi-final and Calum Chambers certainly played his part in that.
Despite playing in minimum of three games, the Slovakian centre back still made a big impression.
His battle with Tammy Abraham in Slovakia's defeat was encapsulating and for the most part he nullified one of the more threatening centre-forwards in the tournament, matching him for pace and strength - no easy feat. Against other teams he was completely dominant.
A great organiser of his teammates, Skriniar was a commanding presence throughout and proved to be a formidable obstacle to any attacking player, thwarting them on almost every occasion and thriving in one-on-one situations.
Another player that was perhaps a victim of his side leaving the competition relatively early. Slovakia almost qualified for a semi-final place as the best runner-up and in all honesty perhaps should have finished top of Group A; a 30 minute lapse in concentration was enough to steal all three points and pip them to first place.
At the centre of everything Slovakia did well in Poland though was the pivot drawing comparisons with Marco Verratti. Stature and shirt number are reason enough to draw such similarities, but when watching him play the likeness only runs deeper. A metronomic presence at the base of midfield, Lobotka left everyone purring after his performance in the first game and didn't look back.
Effortless in everything he did, from tackling and winning the ball to passing and keeping it, Lobotka shone as the conductor of the Slovakian operation. Marcos Llorente was undoubtedly the most sensational #6 in Poland but, despite a smaller sample size to work with, it would be a crime to gloss over the incredible work Stanislav Lobotka did in his three games.
Considering the quality of his teammates, his importance to them and finally his impact in each game it would not have been unfair to reward him with a starting place.
Arnold was the heartbeat of this title winning German side, commanding his team throughout their five matches and leading by example with consistently good performances.
His work for the Germans may go without full recognition but there is no doubting Arnold was talismanic for his side at this tournament, evident by the simple fact he completed more passes (287) than any other player in Poland.
His left foot proved key to unlocking the most stubborn defences. Blessed with superb delivery, he made Germany a threat from every set-piece situation and was a scary prospect if given too much time on the ball. With Dahoud or Meyer serving as the creative sparks in Germany’s midfield, and Haberer’s frailties as a defensive midfielder, Arnold was deployed in similar fashion to that of Spain's Marcos Llorente.
Slightly more brutish in the tackle and not one to avoid an altercation with opposition players, Arnold disrupted his opponents’ build up play and initiated counter attacks. He got into the heads of his opponents and, as seen in the final, frustrated them into forcing passes or committing needless fouls.
Although Arnold worked wonders for Germany at this year’s tournament, Llorente’s overall impact on Spain just nudges his German counterpart out of the starting lineup.
The dirty work Arnold fulfilled is not to be underestimated, but Llorente was more influential to his side offensively and defensively whereas Arnold focused on defensive contribution and left the the offensive duties to the forwards. Both deserved starters, but Arnold just misses out on this one.
After moving to RB Leipzig prior to the tournament, many fans of the club and football alike were looking forward to seeing what the Portuguese forward had to offer his new side.
Despite making two of his three appearances off the bench, Bruma’s impact as a substitute was so significant on both occasions that he forced his way into the starting lineup for their last match against Macedonia. His raw power and pace struck fear into the hearts of defenders, gliding so easily past their challenges and proving to be near impossible for them control.
Bruma breathed life into Portugal whenever he entered the field and single-handedly drove their offensive forays at times. In a slow opening match against Serbia, Bruma posed an electric threat on the counter attack as they looked to seal all three points.
Against Spain, Bruma offered a different dimension to pick apart the opposition as Bruno Fernandes struggled to influence the game. As for his goal scoring prowess, his strike against Spain and the two he bagged against Macedonia epitomised his excellent technique and his penchant for the spectacular — Saúl was the only player to score more.
At Scouted were firmly believe that the quality of strikers at the tournament was lacking — quality displays at least. Most likely a byproduct of the exceptional talent in the centre-back area, no one centre-forward stood out, hence why Marco Asensio sees himself as the most advanced player in our starting XI.
That being said, Kenneth Zohore produced the best centre-forward display and one of the individual performances of the tournament in his only start against the Czech Republic. Directly involved in all four of Denmark’s goals in that game, the Cardiff City striker bullied the Czech defence who had no answer to his physical strength.
Adding two assists on top of his brace of goals, Zohore’s place in our side may seem bizarre but it is more a reflection of other forwards’ inability to prove themselves when given the chance.
Brushing defenders aside and bulldozing past opposition players, Kenneth Zohore’s display was an example for all other strikers to follow. Sadly, none seemed to deliver.
A an exciting tournament with some exceptional talent comes to a close. These are the 18 players that impressed *us* the most.