Picking a European Under-21 Championships Best XIJune 18, 2013
Picking a European Under-21 Championships Best XI
The U-21 European Championships have finished, Spain are the victors once more.
That's consecutive titles for Thiago Alcantara and co., and the Barcelona midfield schemer rightfully features in our ultimate XI for the tournament.
Who joins him? Read on to find out, but be warned: It's La Roja-centric!
GK: Orjan Nyland
Orjan Nyland was a little-known prospect coming into the tournament, but produced a string of impressive saves to put himself on the map.
It's the sort of competition that could do wonders for him on a personal level, but leaves his domestic club Molde nervously glancing at the phones awaiting enquiries.
His performance against Spain in the semifinal was a real highlight, displaying outstanding agility, reflexes and a great command of his area.
RB: Martin Montoya
The right-back berth was Giulio Donati's all the way up until the final.
The Italian gave away a (contentious) penalty in the final against Cristian Tello and looked all at sea when dealing with his marker—be it the speedy winger, Isco or even Koke drifting out to the left.
Martin Montoya, on the other hand, was consistently excellent no matter the opponent. He kept Dani Carvajal, who had a stunning season in the Bundesliga, out of the team and played every meaningful match.
He impressed at both ends of the pitch.
CB: Matteo Bianchetti, Italy
Up until the final, Italy hadn't conceded a goal from open play.
That's an impressive achievement for a solid back line, and Matteo Bianchetti was a standout alongside Luca Caldirola. If we could, we'd splice them together, but we can't, so we'll take the former.
He launched a lovely long ball in the final for Ciro Immobile's super finish, and was arguably the least fault-worthy of the back four during the Spanish demolition.
CB: Marc Bartra, Spain
Doubts surfaced over Marc Bartra's abilities after Barcelona's UEFA Champions League collapse.
Within a week, he went from being la Blaugrana's answer to Raphael Varane to spare parts; An odd, rash vocalization from many dumbfounded supporters.
This Championship was the first time many were able to view him in a situation he wasn't thrust into, and he excelled in a Spanish back line that kept clean sheets all the way up to the final.
LB: Alberto Moreno, Spain
Alberto Moreno is still on a youth contract at Sevilla—expect that to change pretty quickly.
He looks ready to step forward and compete with Jordi Alba in the senior squad, giving Vicente del Bosque the luxury of two excellent left-backs his predecessors never enjoyed.
Moreno played it well in Israel, going forward at the right times and playing in conjunction with Martin Montoya superbly. Together, they make a real full-back pairing.
DM: Asier Illarramendi, Spain
Asier Illarramendi won't grab the headlines like Thiago Alcantara will, but he's been many football aficionados' Player of the Tournament.
Shielding his back four with consummate ease and creating from deep, it's difficult to think of a way Illarra could have impressed further throughout the tournament.
Positive passes forward, crunching challenges when necessary and the mindful positional awareness of a seasoned veteran.
Real Sociedad could have trouble holding onto him this summer.
MC: Thiago Alcantara, Spain
Thiago Alcantara's future may be up in the air at club level, but that didn't affect his performances in Israel.
The captain lead by example, controlling the midfield of every game Spain played leading up to the final and asserting his dominance with a hat-trick in the showpiece event.
His hybrid set of skills, borne out of switching from attacking midfield to flat central midfield, were unrivaled across the other playing staff on show.
His free kick in the opening game provided Alvaro Morata the chance to crown a perfect start, and from there continued to flummox opposing midfields with ease.
MC: Lewis Holtby, Germany
Germany's stay in the competition was short, but Lewis Holtby took no time in delivering several outstanding performances for his nation.
He's an experienced, first-team player at club level—a fact that became clear as he continually dragged his colleagues through tough spells in games.
He was sublime in die Mannschaft's opening 3-2 loss to the Netherlands in particular, scoring and assisting in a Man-of-the-Match performance.
RW: Georginio Wijnaldum, Netherlands
Many fancied the Netherlands coming into the competition, with faith in their new defensive line and attacking wingers leading the discussion on this upcoming generation.
It seems like Georginio Wijnaldum has been around forever given his early, early breakthrough, but he's never threatened to truly deliver on his potential.
His positive showings at the U-21 European Championships swayed many floating voters, displaying pace, power, awareness and an eye for goal.
LW: Isco, Spain
The very fact that an U-21 side has a player in it who's considering £30 million moves is testament to Spain's youth project.
Isco dazzled and delighted throughout La Roja's showings in Israel, winning himself many admirers thanks to his silky, silky skills.
Quick feet, quick mind: He can turn nothing into something and always produces a chance on goal. He lingers in clever areas and the ball just seems to find it's way to him—it's no accident, we assure you.
ST: Alvaro Morata, Spain
The decision to stick with Rodrigo for so long up front for Spain confused just about everyone on the planet, but credit to Alvaro Morata for keeping his head down and working hard.
Subbed on late in the opener, he scored the winner; Subbed on in game two, he made the result safe. Earning a start for the third, and meaningless, group game, he scores his third of the tournament, but is dropped for the semifinal against Norway.
Making another late cameo, he gets himself on the score sheet to make it four from four, and finally convinces Julen Lopetegui he's worthy of a starting berth.
Ironically, he fails to score in the final, but works the left channel tremendously and crosses for Thiago Alcantara's opener to set the tone.
A great tournament for Morata, considering his paltry sum of minutes.