The nineteeth European U-21 Championships kick-off this evening with the host nation Israel taking on Norway in the seaside town of Netanya. Over the next fortnight some of Europe's best and brightest upcoming talent will take to the field in the eight team tournament. Tonight's opener probably involves the two weakest sides on paper with defending champions Spain, 2009 winners Germany and five times champions Italy the ones to watch. That said, all of the teams have exciting individuals who could be the leading lights in the real deal in France in 2016. While players such as David de Gea, Alan Dzagoev and Wilfried Zaha will already be familiar to most, here are five other players you may not have seen play that are worth watching:
There is considerable hype in Germany at the moment surrounding Eintracht Frankfurt's central midfielder Sebastian Rode. Tall, quick and with an impressive ability to stride out from defensive positions into midfield he has caught the eye of Bayern Munich who have tied up a deal to bring him (along with 99 other talented young Bundesliga players) to the Allianz Arena this summer. It's hard to know how effectively he will fit into Pep Guardiola's system though and it is in fact the Frankfurt born Emre Can who should be looked out for in the German midfield. The Bayern Munich prospect has already scored for the club's senior team, has won the Fritz Walter Medal, the highest honour for a German youth footballer and was one of the players of the tournament at the U-17 World Cup in Mexico. A defensive midfielder with a good eye for a pass, he could be keeping Rode on the bench next season.
2. Stefan de Vrij
Feyenoord are building an interesting looking squad with a young profile at the moment with players like Bruno Martins Indi, Jordy Clasie and Tonny Vilhena catching the eyes of scouts across the continent. Stefan de Vrij is the lynchpin in the side and at the tender age of 21 is already club captain. De Vrij was in Bert van Marwijk's preliminary squad for the World Cup in 2010 and actually made his debut under van Gaal last year. Now with five senior caps, it will be interesting to see whether the natural born leader can inspire his side to progress from a tough group containing Russia, Germany and Spain and become the commanding center back the Oranje have lacked since the retirement of Jaap Stam.
3. Omri Altman
The home nation look a little out of their depth in this tournament and will struggle to get results. Their opening game against Norway tonight perhaps is their best chance of picking up any points. All of the squad are based in the domestic league with the exception of Fulham attacker Altman. The cottagers pulled off his signing in 2011 despite considerable competition although the nineteen year old is yet to make his league debut. These championships may be his big chance to break through to the next level.
4. Oleg Shatov
Alan Dzagoev is a young player born in the Caucasus region of Russia who has managed to make it at one of the big Moscow clubs. Oleg Shatov on the other hand is a young player from the Urals who rejected the advances of CSKA Moscow for the wealthy Caucasian Anzhi Makhachkala. Despite following these opposite paths, the two creative attacking midfielders have been driving their sides forward in the Russian domestic season this year and while Dzagoev's CSKA emerged with the double, Shatov has quietly been building a reputation for himself as a reliable goalscorer. He has four goals in fifteen appearances for the U-21 squad and got his first goal for the senior team earlier this year in a friendly with Iceland.
5. Daniel Carvajal
Many of the players in the Spanish squad will already be familiar to most, with Thiago Alcântara, Sergio Canales, David de Gea, Isco and Iker Muniain having already garnered significant European experience. Daniel Carvajal will be hoping to gain some Champions League appearances next season after he re-signed for Real Madrid this summer. A graduate of los blancos academy he joined Bayer Leverkusen last summer after failing to break into Mourinho's first team squad. One successful season later Real Madrid have forked out €6.5 million in exercising their buy back option. An attacking right back, his performances are worth keeping an eye out for.