After a highly entertaining youth tournament in Basse-Normandie, we take a look back at the U-19s European Championships and cast our eye over the stars of the future.
One of the more curious quirks about international tournaments (or any tournaments really for that matter) is that, no matter how much you immerse yourself in it, dedicating valuable time and energy along the way, once it is over, it is over.
While completely natural to human nature (life goes on and all that) I do find it unsettling at times. The World Cup totally and utterly immersed almost the entire planet, breaking all manner of indicators for viewing figures and other insightful barometers of buzz (like Twitter). As soon as it finished however, within a few days we were all back to normal life and everyone had seemingly almost forgotten it ever took place. Mention the World Cup now and it’s like you’re speaking of some stale ancient relic. The final was only just over three weeks ago.
So, following that line of thinking, it was rather surreal to see Alexandre Lacazette playing in the Emirates Cup friendly tournament in London barely up to 24 hours after scoring France’s dramatic winner against Spain in the Under-19s European Championship final. And then again the next day, in Olympique Lyonnais’ second game of that competition. 3 games in 3 days, spanning 2 different countries. No wonder Lacazette limped off injured in his third game, against AC Milan!
The 2010 UEFA Under-19s European Championships may now be over, confined to the banks of our memories, but the tournament once again offered viewers a fascinating glimpse at the players who may at some point soon play central roles in the national teams of their respective countries. France for example can take heart that their summer of shame ends on an optimistic note, with Laurent Blanc in charge and an exciting crop of highly talented (and seemingly united) players emerging with a trophy. Here, on Just Football, are my players of the tournament (in no particular order – except number 1):
1) Gaël Kakuta (France)
Now I understand why Chelsea felt they could let go of Joe Cole. His ready-made replacement is already waiting in the wings, and he goes by the name of Gaël Kakuta. Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti has described Kakuta as “the future of Chelsea” and on the evidence of this competition it is easy to see why.
Dynamic, pacy, two-footed, intelligent – Kakuta appears to possess all the attributes needed to make it at the top level. At the U-19s European Championships he was magnificent, and central to all that was positive about a vibrant, exciting French side. What impressed me most about Kakuta in this tournament was his unflappable cool in pressure situations. His smart touch and finish to score the equaliser for France when 1-0 down against Croatia in the semi-final and his assist for France’s winning goal in the final both showed impressive maturity – a rare attribute at such a young age.
Kakuta was fairly quiet in the final. But when needed most, he stepped up. A wonderful mazy dribble and shot in the 87th minute nearly won the game in itself. But when the rebound was parried straight back to Kakuta he didn’t panic, he didn’t thrash at the ball, he simply analysed the situation calmly and played a lovely far post cross for Lacazette to score the winner. 5 games, 2 goals, 2 assists. Gaël Kakuta looks the real deal.
The closest thing to Xavi at this tournament, Thiago Alcántara is a 19-year-old midfielder with roots in three countries. Born in Italy and raised in both Brazil and Spain, Alcántara moved to Spain permanently 2004 after completing a move from Flamengo to FC Barcelona. Schooled at Barça’s famous La Masia academy, Alcántara, whose father is the former Brazil international and World Cup 1994 winner Mazinho, bears all the hallmarks of a Barcelona academy product – cultured, comfortable on the ball and reads the game astutely.
Sitting just in front of Spain’s back four, Alcántara combined well with fellow Barcelona youngster Oriel Romeu and always provided an outlet for his teammates. With minimal touches of the ball, Alcántara looked to maintain possession, link defenders and attackers and find openings wherever possible. An incisive passer, Alcántara really does appear as if he has been studying the style of Xavi, Iniesta and co. Has already scored one goal in two appearances at senior level for Barça, and was excellent in Basse-Normandie.
3) Daniel Pacheco (Spain)
Dani Pacheco ended up the tournament’s top scorer in France with four goals, following in the footsteps of a certain Fernando Torres. Here the 19-year-old Liverpool striker was excellent, a constant attacking threat for Luis Milla’s side. Operating down the left hand side of a three-pronged attacking midfield in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Pacheco was a menace when cutting in-field as he sought to do as often as possible.
Three goals with his left foot and one with his right ably demonstrated Pacheco’s versatility when it comes to scoring goals, and the former FC Barcelona youngster can also create, as shown by his sumptuous through ball to Rodrigo that carved open France for the opening goal in the final. Looks better as a withdrawn attacker than an out-and-out striker. Will now return to Anfield and look to feature more regularly under Roy Hodgson.
4) Marco Djuricin (Austria)
At just seventeen years of age Marco Djuricin was one of the younger players present at the U-19s European Championships this summer, but the Austrian nevertheless played a prominent role in his country’s campaign, helping them qualify for next year’s Under-20 World Cup in Colombia. An energetic forward operating as a classic number 10, Djuricin consistently found himself in good positions via intelligent movement in and around the box. He also showed good awareness, supplying his teammates with imaginative passing. Held his nerve in the final minutes of Austria’s final game against the Netherlands to score the winning penalty that sends Austria to the 2011 U-20 World Cup.
5) Alexandre Lacazette (France)
Unfortunately we didn’t get to see all that much of Lyon’s effervescent attacker Alexandre Lacazette at this tournament, with France coach Francis Smerecki preferring to use him as an impact substitute. Nonetheless, the brief glimpses we were afforded of the 19-year-old certainly bode well for the future.
3 goals, including the winner in the final, and 1 assist is not a bad record in just 120 minutes of football, but statistics aside Lacazette sparkled whenever he was called upon, with his pace, energy and direct running causing teams all sorts of problems. Showed bravery when sticking his head into a dangerous situation for the winning goal in the final and is the sort of gutsy, spirited player fans love to watch.
6) Sergio Canales (Spain)
Sergio Canales caused a storm in La Liga around December last year, when a series of sublime performances for Racing Santander and a questionable contract situation brought him to the attention of several major European clubs. A few months later Canales signed for Real Madrid, and his performances in Basse-Normandie for Spain U-19s highlighted the qualities fans in Madrid can look forward to over the coming seasons.
Strong in possession, extremely skilful and alert, Canales has great vision and a keen eye for a through ball. A disciple of the ‘tiki-taka’ style of play Spain have made their own, Canales was also on hand to tuck away Spain’s third goal in the semi-final win over England, the tournament’s second best piece of inventive genius after Ezequiel Calvente’s sublime penalty. A star in the making.
Honourable mentions: Gilles Sunu (France), Keko (Spain), Loïc Nego (France), Antoine Griezmann (France), Jerson Cabral (Netherlands), Marc Bartra (Spain), Sébastien Faure (France).
Anyone else catch your eye at the U-19s? Let us know by leaving a comment below.
(pic#1 via uefa.com)