Five to watch: The starlets set to shine in today's European U17 final between England & Netherlands
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In 2010, an England U17s side featuring the likes of Ross Barkley, Connor Wickham and Saido Berahino beat Spain to deliver the U17 European Championships trophy in Lichtenstein.
Now a new contingent of Young Lions have the chance to emulate the class of 2010, with only two-time champions Netherlands standing between them and glory in Wednesday afternoon's final in Malta. But who's got the minerals to win the thing? Well, plenty from our lot...
Dom Solanke (Chelsea)
Solanke’s season has already been littered with silverware and success – it was his two dramatic late goals that secured his side the FA Youth Cup against Fulham last month. Those strikes saw him reach the 20-goal milestone for the campaign, and his goalscoring form has been no different for his country either. The Blues man netted five goals in 13 games throughout qualifying, and goes into the final as the tournament’s joint-top scorer. He also boasts an impressive shot-conversion rate; all three of his attempts on target in Malta have found the net, with a brace in the group stage against Turkey after he opened the scoring in the semi-final against Portugal.
Solanke is eligible to represent Nigeria, but was sourced locally for Chelsea's academy when he was only eight. The 16-year-old has all the makings of a quick and powerful forward, and has equal ability with both feet. He’s not shy of creating a goal or two either; the forward weighed in with more than a dozen assists for Chelsea’s under-18s last season.
Patrick Roberts (Fulham)
After missing out on two trophies this season, Fulham forward Roberts won’t want to surrender a third. He was part of Fulham's FA Youth Cup final-losing team, and after dominating the U18 Premier League for most of the season, the Cottagers narrowly missed out on the play-offs. Roberts was a shining light throughout both campaigns. His electric displays at youth level earned two first-team substitute appearances against Manchester City and Everton towards the back end of the season. Roberts has brought his good form to Malta with three goals, including a superb solo effort in the semi-final win over Portugal. He is also the top assister with four.
Roberts is equally adept as a second striker or drifting in from the right flank. He is known for his pace and direct dribbling, making him a dangerous attacking outlet in any team and a nightmare for defenders. Fulham’s relegation could be a blessing in disguise for the young hitman, with his performances in this tournament certainly having cemented his status in Felix Magath’s plans. The 17-year-old should be a player we’ll be seeing a lot more of next season, although Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is already known to be a keen admirer.
Ryan Ledson (Everton)
It has been a wild few months for England’s captain, and the speed of his rise is showing no signs of slowing. Prior to this tournament, he had trained with Everton's first team for the last two weeks of the season and was an unused substitute for two of the Toffees' final three fixtures – only missing the final game because of his England call-up. The 16-year-old midfielder joined Everton when he was just five, and has been a regular in their U21 Premier League campaign this season. After Ross Barkley’s success of 2010 with the Young Lions' U17 side, Ledson is now modelling himself on his 20-year-old team-mate, who has just been named in England’s World Cup squad.
Ledson made his England U17 debut against Portugal aged 15, and has played 15 times since. He is a predominantly right-footed player, and shows maturity in his understanding of free-flowing, passing football. He also offers a mighty force in the tackle and stands out as a vocal, commanding leader in the middle of the park. Ledson is hotly tipped to follow in the footsteps of Barkley, Wayne Rooney and Jack Rodwell as a success story of the Everton academy.
Izzy Brown (Chelsea)
The European Championship could be Isaiah ‘Izzy’ Brown’s third major honour of the season. He has already won the FA Youth Cup and U21 Premier League title with Chelsea, and made four tournament appearances so far in pursuit of the hat-trick. He became the second-youngest Premier League player of all time when he was introduced as a substitute at just 16 years and 117 days for West Brom against Wigan last May. His move to the Blues was surrounded by controversy as West Brom and Chelsea argued over a fee for the striker. It didn’t stop him joining up with Chelsea’s under-21 squad last summer, however, and he played 20 times for them last season, netting nine goals.
Brown scored four goals in six appearances throughout qualifying but has failed to net in the tournament so far. He’ll be heavily pressured to produce in the final, though – Brown has the boots of Newcastle's Adam Armstrong to fill, who was injured in the semi-final clash against Portugal. Armstrong was England’s top scorer in qualifying and had two to his name in this tournament with strikes against Malta and Turkey.
Calvin Verdonk (Feyenoord)
The man leading the Netherlands’ charge to their third title in four years is Feyenoord defender Calvin Verdonk. He may already be familiar to England fans after scoring a spectacular long-range effort in Holland’s 2-0 victory over the Young Lions during the group stage. Verdonk was ever-present for the Oranje throughout their unbeaten qualifying campaign, in which they scored 24 times in six matches. As well as being a technically gifted yet hard-tackling centre-back, Verdonk isn’t too shabby at the other end of the field. The 17-year-old is also vying for the top goalscorer crown having found the net three times so far.
After Feyenoord lost Rodney Kongolo to Manchester City, they acted quickly to sign Verdonk on a professional deal – handy before a flurry of offers come in for the defender, who is one of the favourites (along with Roberts) to snap up the Player of the Tournament award. Jetro Willems and Memphis Depay were part of Netherlands’ squad triumphant in 2011, and Verdonk is likely to be the memorable name from this era if he can find a way past John Peacock’s side this afternoon.