Euro 2020: Mendes, Doku and the 'next generation' hoping to make their mark

By Sports Desk June 05, 2021

Euro 2020 has been a long time coming. Delayed by a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Championship is less than a week away from kick-off.

While the disappointment of seeing such a major tournament postponed and pushed back in 2020 was significant for many football fans, the delay has arguably helped the prospect of having more young players involved.

Every international event has its star man, but they also have their breakthrough talents and youngsters on the scene for the first time.

Euro 2016 had the likes of Kingsley Coman, Joshua Kimmich, Young Player of the Tournament Renato Sanches and Marcus Rashford – the youngest individual to feature – enjoying their first experiences of such events.

Who will be their equivalents at Euro 2020?

Well, Stats Perform has identified 10 members of the 'next generation' either hoping to stake their claim for a regular spot in the team or announce themselves on the big stage.

Becir Omeragic, 19, centre-back – Switzerland

It's no mean feat to establish yourself as a regular at club level as a teenage centre-back, a position that often requires maturity and composure, but Omeragic has done just that with FC Zurich, playing 48 league games for them since the start of 2019-20.

A tidy player in possession, Omeragic generally operates as the right-sided defender in a back three, and that suits him down to the ground with the national team, whom he has represented four times already.

If he does appear for Switzerland in the Euros, he'll become their second-youngest player to feature for them at a major tournament in the past 10 years, with Breel Embolo the only one to do so at a younger age (19 years, 118 days at Euro 2016).

 

Kacper Kozlowski, 17, attacking midfielder – Poland  

The fact Kozlowski was even in contention for a place in the squad is a triumph in itself, given that he broke his pelvis and back in a car crash just last January. That he actually secured a place is truly remarkable.

Kozlowski is the next great hope of Polish football, having already made a name for himself back home at Pogon Szczecin, with whom he became the second-youngest player in Ekstraklasa history (15y, 215d). He then became the club's youngest league goalscorer (17y, 182d) in April with a diving header against Podbeskidzie.

That came a month after he made history with the national team, becoming their youngest ever player (17y, 163d).

Kozlowski is a technical gifted attacking midfielder, but don't let that lead to certain misconceptions – he's also an impressive physical specimen for his age and a feisty competitor.

 

Jonas Wind, 22, forward – Denmark

Scandinavian countries are producing some bright attacking talents at the moment, and Wind looks set to be Denmark's contribution to the trend.

Wind has been a regular in the Copenhagen squad since he was a teenager, but in 2020-21 he enjoyed something of a breakthrough as he started 28 of their 32 league games.

His haul of 15 goals and eight assists was bettered by only one Danish Superligaen player and also shows his well-rounded nature.

A real unit, Wind is effective in the air, good at holding up play and also technically efficient. This blend of abilities – particularly his aerial prowess – could be a real weapon in Group B, which looks as though it could be a tight one.

Adam Hlozek, 18, forward – Czech Republic

If there's one teenager who looks likely to spark a post-tournament bidding war among Europe's biggest clubs, it's arguably Hlozek, who appears to be a serious talent.

At Sparta Prague, he initially started out as a winger because of his direct style of play and dribbling abilities, but those skills have transferred particularly well to a more central berth this term, where he has also been able to make the most of his impressive build.

Despite missing a chunk of the season through injury, Hlozek's still managed to plunder 15 Liga goals in just 19 matches, and in April became the competition's youngest hat-trick scorer with his treble against Opava.

He then finished the season with an astonishing four-goal haul against Zbrojovka Brno to finish as the league's joint-top scorer, though he also had six assists to his name. The 18-year-old is a complete striker if there ever was one, and he could be a wonderful wildcard option for Czech Republic if he overcomes a pre-tournament injury.

 

Illya Zabarnyi, 18, centre-back – Ukraine

Hopes are high for Zabarnyi, not just with Ukraine, but at club level as well. Currently playing for Dynamo Kiev after coming through their academy and making his debut just last September, the highly regarded centre-back is already attracting interest from abroad, with Chelsea supposedly among those keen on him.

Zabarnyi was one of only two Dynamo players to play every minute in the group stage of the 2020-21 Champions League (540), along with Tomasz Kedziora, highlighting just how trusted he already is by the Ukrainian champions.

The nine clearances he made in December's 1-0 win over Ferencvaros was more than any other Dynamo player in a single game in the 2020-21 edition, while his 34 across the group stage was bettered by only seven defenders. While some might point out such metrics tend to favour those in so-called lesser teams, it's worth mentioning the likes of Marquinhos, Antonio Rudiger and Stefan Savic were among the few with more clearances than Zabarnyi.

His distribution can still be problematic when under pressure, but he does possess a cool head on the ball – Zabarnyi certainly has the potential to be a mainstay for Ukraine in the coming years, and hopefully he'll get an opportunity at Euro 2020.

 

Maksim Mukhin, 19, defensive midfielder – Russia

With Belgium the big favourites to advance from Group B, there's going to be a three-way tussle for second (and third) between Denmark, Finland and Russia. Those three could be quite well-matched, with their contests looking difficult to call either way.

Mukhin's destructive tendencies could be key towards the end of games if Russia are under pressure but still in with a chance of victory, with the 19-year-old recording the best minutes-per-tackle rate (one every 19.8 minutes) among all players to feature at least 10 games in the Russian Premier League in 2020-21.

Young he may be, but Mukhin won't be overawed by the occasion having made his Champions League debut with Lokomotiv Moscow this season, catching the eye in his solitary appearance – a 3-1 defeat by Salzburg in which he made four tackles (bettered by only one player on the pitch) and three interceptions after coming off the bench at half-time, evidence of his defensive capabilities.

An energetic and competitive midfielder, Mukhin – who has agreed to join CSKA Moscow for next season – could be a real asset for Russia, if not now then almost certainly in the future.

 

Jules Kounde, 22, centre-back – France

Granted, Kounde is perhaps a level above the rest here in terms of how established he already is at club level with Sevilla, but it's worth noting he only got his first senior cap since the domestic season ended.

His form with Sevilla has helped him jump up the queue somewhat, with the Bordeaux youth product getting into France's squad ahead of Bayern Munich-bound Dayot Upamecano.

Kounde won't go into the tournament as first choice, but he is an interesting option at centre-back should France need – or want – a change.

A progressive and positive defender, Kounde's 624 carries (defined as movements of at least five metres with the ball) was bettered by only Pau Torres, while he carried possession forward to the tune of 3,908.8 metres across the campaign, a figure only two defenders could improve on in LaLiga this term.

He's also a keen distributor with 3,172 attempted passes – Edmond Tapsoba is the only player younger than him to try more (3,509) across the top five leagues. Potentially set for a big move away from Sevilla this year, making the most of any opportunities at the Euros won't hurt his chances.

 

Jeremy Doku, 19, winger – Belgium

It seems as though most young talents these days have a backstory that includes almost joining one of Europe's biggest clubs – Doku is no different, having opted against signing for Liverpool back in 2018.

A player who dreams of joining Barcelona, Doku definitely looks primed to have an impact for Belgium at the Euros. An explosive winger to his very core, the teenager has just enjoyed a fine debut campaign at Rennes in Ligue 1.

While his goal involvements return of five (two goals, three assists) is modest, his ability on the ball makes him a nightmare to defend against. In fact, of the players to attempt 200 or more dribbles in the top five European leagues this term, he's one of just three to boast at least a 60 per cent success rate – the other two are Lionel Messi and Adama Traore.

Raw, for sure, but if you want a livewire to inject a little unpredictability to you team, you can count on Doku.

Giacomo Raspadori, 21, forward – Italy

Italy are back in the big time after missing out on the 2018 World Cup, and much of the scoring burden will fall on Ciro Immobile and Andrea Belotti. But if they aren't doing the business, Sassuolo's Raspadori offers a considerably different alternative.

A nimble and technically gifted forward, Raspadori does not have great physicality on his side, so Italy might need to adapt their game slightly if he's in the attack as opposed to Immobile or Belotti, but he is more likely to dribble past his man.

That's certainly not all he's good at, though. While his return of six Serie A goals is by no means remarkable, four of those were scored in his final six games of the season and among Italians to net five non-penalty goals or more this term across all competitions, Raspadori's conversion rate of 37.5 is the best.

Nuno Mendes, 18, left-back – Portugal

A key player in the Sporting CP side that won the club's first league title since 2001-02, Mendes looks set for a big future.

The teenage left-back has already been strongly linked with the likes of Real Madrid and could be the ideal long-term replacement for Marcelo, such is Mendes' skillset.

He was the only teenage defender to create 30 or more chances (31) across the Portuguese Primeira Liga or any of Europe's top five leagues in 2020-21, proof of just how effective he can be and his forward-thinking nature. He also offers good deliveries from set-pieces.

He'll likely be back-up to Raphael Guerreiro at the Euros, but he's certainly not there just for the ride – he can have an impact if given the chance.

Related items

  • France star Pavard: I was knocked out for 15 seconds France star Pavard: I was knocked out for 15 seconds

    Benjamin Pavard revealed he was knocked out for "10 to 15 seconds" before returning to the field in France's 1-0 win over Germany at Euro 2020.

    Pavard sustained a head injury following a collision with Germany's Robin Gosens as world champions France opened their Group F campaign with victory on Tuesday.

    France defender Pavard was left on the floor before receiving treatment for several minutes in Munich, where he was eventually allowed to continue.

    "I took a hell of a shock," Pavard told beIN Sports post-match.

    "I was a little knocked out for 10 to 15 seconds. After that, it was better."

    A "concussion charter" was signed by all 24 teams at Euro 2020 – a commitment to taking a series of measures to improve the care of players and includes neurological baseline testing and access to in-match television replays for team doctors.

    But the incident involving Pavard has raised further questions about concussion protocols in football.

    FIFPro has long called for temporary concussion substitutions and the enforcement of a minimum six-day gradual return to play.

    "The issue of concussion is a very serious issue. It's a health and safety issue, which is related to their work place. In my point of view, I don't think it's been addressed in the proper manner it should be addressed," FIFPro vice-president Francis Awaritefe previously told Stats Perform.

    "We've seen the medical data around the long-term risks of concussion and how they can have a deleterious long-term effect for people who suffer concussion when it's not managed properly.

    "We're really worried about it because football seems to be a long way behind some of the other sports in terms of protocols and just in terms of the way how seriously they're taking concussion.

    "For me, it's a massive issue. We don't want to wait until a player has a serious injury that it might end their career or worse, we have a player die on the field or soon after because of a concussion issue that wasn't treated properly.

    "As a sport, we need to reflect on this and get together with experts to come up with smart and proactive solutions to deal with this really, really serious issue."

    Brendan Schwab – executive director of the World Players Association – also told Stats Perform previously: "When concussed, it's not the time for the player to make a decision as to whether they should continue in a game. That is a decision that needs to be placed in the hands of independent medical assessors who have no duty other than to act in the best interests of the player.

    "There needs to be independent medical assessors on the sidelines. But we do expect this to be resisted because it is resisted in other sports. We now have independent medical assessors on the sidelines of the NFL and it's only because the NFLPA fought for that right. It was a battle.

    "Now the suggestion that the club doctor knows the player better than another doctor, again, is not a medically-based comment. What we do know, however, is that the club doctor who is employed by the club has a conflict of interest. That conflict of interest needs to be minimised and voided in circumstances when dealing with head injuries.

    "If FIFA doesn't change, what we will see is football leagues at the national level collectively bargain their own variation of the laws of the game. In Australia, the knowledge is clear that the clubs as employers would be in breach of health and safety requirements, and acting against the wishes of the unions, by putting players back into the game when they're clearly in a vulnerable position. What's to prevail there? Laws of the game or national health and safety laws? National health and safety laws have to prevail. It won't be a defence to any action for an employer to say 'we were simply providing an unsafe work practice at the behest of FIFA'."

  • France must accept favourites tag at Euro 2020 – Pogba France must accept favourites tag at Euro 2020 – Pogba

    Paul Pogba insisted France must deal with being labelled as favourites to win Euro 2020 after he led the way with a supreme performance against Germany.

    Mats Hummels' own goal gifted Euro 2016 runners-up France a 1-0 win over Germany in their opening Group F encounter in Munich on Tuesday, putting Les Bleus well on their way to progressing to the last 16.

    France – who finished with just one attempt on target – had opportunities to add to their lead, with Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema having goals disallowed for offside, though Joachim Low's Germany ultimately failed to make their luck count as they lost their opening game of a European Championship for the first time.

    The winner came in fortuitous circumstances, with Hummels turning in from Lucas Hernandez's cross.

    Pogba's exceptional pass played in France's left-back, however, and the Manchester United midfielder was on top form, attempting more passes (52) and more in Germany's half (31) than any Les Bleus player.

    He also amassed a team-high 78 touches – albeit that total was 50 less than game-leader Toni Kroos (128) – and went in for 20 duels, the most of any player.

    With the world champions having been tipped to lift the trophy they missed out on against Portugal on home soil five years ago, Pogba is adamant France must live up to the billing.

    "The performance of the team is the most important. Without them, I would not have been so efficient," Pogba, who was also involved in a flashpoint with Antonio Rudiger when he appeared to complain that the Germany defender had bitten him, told M6.

    "They helped me, they have everyone made the effort. This victory is for everyone, those who are also on the bench and in the stands to support us.

    "Everyone was talking about our status as favourite, our attack, the group of death. We must assume our status with humility."

    Didier Deschamps is aiming to become the first person to win the European Championship and World Cup as both a player and coach, and was delighted with a resilient display.

    "We had a big match against a very good opponent," Deschamps told M6.

    "I knew that my players were going to be ready, we were fighting for everything, even if in the first half we could have got the ball out a little better. We did not suffer that much in the second period. It's a tough game.

    "This is our first game. In our group, taking these three points is important. We were at the level, this victory is good for us."

    Deschamps' counterpart Low said he could not have asked for any more effort from his Germany side, who mustered 10 attempts to France's four, albeit only one of them hit the target.

    "We really gave everything. We fought until the end, for 90 minutes," Low told beIN Sports.

    "What we missed was a goal. We conceded a goal that we could have avoided, but otherwise I have no criticism to make. We lost a match, but we continue."

    Germany next host defending champions Portugal, while France travel to Budapest to face Hungary.

  • France match early expectations thanks to Pogba, king of the unpredictable France match early expectations thanks to Pogba, king of the unpredictable

    There was a worrying incident shortly before France's Euro 2020 game with Germany involving a Greenpeace parachutist and the stadium Spidercam. No, honestly.

    The apparent protester, his chute emblazoned with 'Kick out oil', slowly circled his way towards the Allianz Arena pitch but collided with the mechanism by which the camera was suspended. Debris almost hit Didier Deschamps in the France dugout, while the man was given medical attention after coming to rest on the turf. Nobody was injured, thankfully.

    It turned out that surprising wonders dropping from the sky was the theme of the day, as France began their quest for continental glory with a 1-0 win in Munich. That's a circuitous route to talking about the spontaneous brilliance of Paul Pogba. No, honestly.

    Twenty minutes had gone in the first meeting of Group F's three big guns. Germany and France had nullified one another, their 3-4-3 and 4-3-1-2 systems keeping the previous two World Cup winners from laying a glove on each other. Before the game, Deschamps described these teams as the best two in the continent, and you could certainly not accuse either side of lacking respect for their opponents.

    Then, Pogba appeared. A throw-in from Benjamin Pavard, a one-two, a lay-off from Karim Benzema, and the ball was into the midfielder's feet. And then it was out of them, a languid, looping pass drifting over the heads of the German back three and into the path of Lucas Hernandez, the only player who seemed aware the move was even on. His mishit cross was promptly shinned into his own net by Mats Hummels, who was perhaps still wondering how the ball had got there.

     

    In many ways, it was a typical Pogba pass: it was incredible he even saw it but, once he had, of course he was going to try it. The Manchester United man is the king of the unanticipated, never shying away from the implausible, for whom the very idea of keeping it simple seems like an affront. At club level, it makes him a target for traditionalist critics; for France, he becomes the match-winner.

    One of Deschamps' real triumphs has been to construct an imperious unit out of France's mighty individuals. They allowed Germany more than 60 per cent of the possession but conceded only one shot on target, their defensive cohesion summed up by Antoine Griezmann sprinting back to challenge Joshua Kimmich on the right wing shortly before injury time.

    When the defence is this strong, and when N'Golo Kante is patrolling the middle, it gives Pogba the licence – the compulsion, even – to try the unexpected. It's why he rejected two simple passes to the left and drove away from his own box surrounded by three players, winning a free-kick that led to Adrien Rabiot hitting the post. It's why he found himself in the number 10 position 66 minutes in, another sublime square ball over the top finished stylishly by Kylian Mbappe but ruled out for offside. It's why Benzema's late tap-in was also disallowed, Mbappe having strayed beyond the last man because Pogba's attempt at an elaborate turn ended up delaying his own throughball.

    Pogba attempted 52 passes in total, more than anyone else for France. He had 78 touches, more than anyone else for France. He contested 20 duels, five aerial duels, won four fouls and made three interceptions – all more than anyone else for France. He won back the ball 12 times and gave it away a further 22, both, naturally, the highest figures in the contest.

    Matches at these tournaments are so often tactical, attritional battles, where the risky pass, the inspired finish can make all the difference. That's standard practice for Pogba, a player who reminds us there's no reason to fear falling when you live for flying.

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.