By Dan Billingham
The Netherlands secured their second consecutive European U17 championship title by beating Italy 4-2 in the final in Dublin. As an entertaining encounter with a decent attendance of 6,000, it was a fitting final for a tournament that saw several sharp teams compete for the crown and many promising talents stand out.
Here are 14 youngsters who particularly caught the eye during the tournament:
Brian Brobbey (Netherlands):
In a tournament with a number of impressive attacking units, young Ajax forward Brobbey gave the Netherlands a decisive tactical edge as a formidable target man that few defenders were able to cope with. While Dutch coach Peter Van der Veen set his side up to utilise Brobbey’s strength and aerial ability, he is very capable with the ball at his feet too. He charged through a couple of English defenders to score his first of two goals in a crucial 5-2 win in the group stages.
Sontje Hansen (Netherlands):
The smart interplay between the Netherlands’ attacking talents continually opened up defences throughout the tournament, and it doesn’t seem particularly fair to single out individuals from such a dangerous unit. Hansen’s speed and movement was a great weapon in the champions’ arsenal though, and he reacted fast to turn the ball in for the first goal in the final. It was no surprise to see him named in the UEFA team of the tournament.
Melayro Bogarde (Netherlands):
Another selection for the UEFA team of the tournament was the Dutch central defender and nephew of former Ajax and Barcelona player Winston Bogarde. He showed all the attributes of a top-class modern central defender in the making, looking extremely calm and composed on the ball with a good ability to play passes of all ranges and is strong in the air.
Ki-Jana Hoever (Netherlands):
The right-back who has already featured for Liverpool in the FA Cup went a little under the radar for much of the tournament simply due to the great wealth of attacking talent in the Dutch ranks. Hoever’s class shone through in some memorable moments though – a beautifully taken goal against Belgium in the quarter-finals that saw him beat a defender by raking his boot over the top of the ball before firing in, and a free-kick that hit the post in the final to allow Naoufal Bannis to put the Netherlands 2-0 up on the rebound.
Sebastiano Esposito (Italy):
The Italian centre-forward came to the tournament with a big reputation having made his debut for the Inter Milan first team in March in a Europa League match against Frankfurt. He fully lived up to it, particularly with his remarkably accurate set pieces. He curled two free-kicks into the top corner at vital times in the tournament, giving the Azzurrini the lead late on in their opening match against Germany and levelling their semi-final with France.
Iyenoma Destiny Udogie (Italy):
The Hellas Verona youngster provided great quality on the left flank for Italy – initially as a left-back against Germany, but he was deployed further forward later on in the tournament and proved equally comfortable in attacking and defending. He made a driving run into the box to meet Samuel Giovane’s cutback and score the winner in Italy’s 2-1 semi-final win over France.
Adil Aouchiche (France):
The PSG youngster was far and away the tournament’s top scorer with nine goals from 12 shots. That saw him equal a select few goalscorers – including Michel Platini – for the most ever goals at a UEFA finals tournament. Needless to say, he showed a remarkable eye for goal and was ruthlessly clinical, smashing hat-tricks against both the Czech Republic in the last 16 and Sweden in the group stage.
Nianzou Kouassi (France):
Kouassi is a highly promising all-round centre-back and showed why Le Parisien last year voted him the top emerging football talent from the French capital. He is physically imposing, good on the ball and eager to break forward and support attacks.
Yeremi Pino (Spain):
In a tournament that featured some excellent wing play, Villareal’s Pino provided plenty of attacking spark for a good campaign for Spain’s youngsters. While he is very capable of beating full-backs and delivering balls across, he frequently drifted into a more central position like a number 10 to thread together attacks with his incisive passing.
Jeremy Doku (Belgium):
Doku is another youngster who arrived with some expectation on his shoulders, with the 16-year-old having made five appearances for Anderlecht’s first team already. His tenacious and ferocious running combined with physicality continually stretched defenders as Belgium won Group A. He burst into the box from close to the corner flag against Ireland with the help of a one-two and after his shot was saved he teed up Chris Kalulika to score.
Gerson Sousa (Portugal):
Portugal were pretty unlucky to be edged out 1-0 by Italy at the quarter-final stage. Benfica’s Gerson Sousa was another wide attacker who shone at the tournament. He provided a wonderful assist for Goncalo Marques to open the scoring against Russia, beating three defenders with a mazy run and laying the ball across perfectly. Sousa scored a decent goal himself later in that game by turning a defender and slotting a composed finish inside the near post from the edge of the penalty area.
Akos Zuigeber (Hungary):
Neutrals following the tournament couldn’t help but find a soft spot for Hungary. They had the noisiest supporters by far and after emerging as surprise winners of Group C they almost pulled off a major upset in the last eight by penning Spain back in the second half only to draw 1-1 and go out on penalties. The relentless running of MTK Budapest winger Akos Zuigeber symbolised the young Hungarians’ determination, and a few days after their quarter-final disappointment, Zuigeber struck the winning penalty in a play-off against Belgium to send Hungary into their first Under-17 World Cup since 1985 later this year.
Morgan Rogers (England):
A tough draw placing them in a group with eventual champions The Netherlands and semi-finalists France left England facing an early exit after the group stage. West Brom’s Morgan Rogers offered attacking verve as a skilful winger though as England scored six goals in three group stage matches.
Karim Adeyemi (Germany):
German coach Michael Feichtenbeiner lamented the absence of Adeyemi, who he called his best attacker, in Germany’s opening loss to Italy due to suspension. The pace of the FC Liefering youngster gave the German attack added bite on his return despite Germany exiting at the group stage after losing another very tough second fixture against Spain. In a stunning second-half showing against Austria, Adeyemi assisted two goals before adding a third himself with a trademark burst of pace taking him behind the defence.