With Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Eden Hazard, Gerard Pique and Cristiano Ronaldo just some of the global superstars that have turned out in previous UEFA Under-17 Championships, all eyes were on Croatia this month as the Continent’s brightest young talent battled it out.
The Tournament itself didn’t fail to entertain, with a total of 99 goals scored across 32 games and just a single games finishing in a scoreless draw.
The final itself was decided on a penalty shootout with Spain needing an equaliser in the sixth minute of injury time to break English hearts.
In a game which was largely dominated by the Spanish, England scored two outstanding goals from Phil Foden and Callum Hudson Odoi, but they succumbed to a late Nacho Diaz header to force the shootout.
England were excellent throughout the tournament, playing with a high intensity as they stroked the ball around the park at ease. The energy through the team was superb and they have some talented players coming up the ranks.
Their opponents, Spain, who recorded their record third European championship, were just that bit technically better. They controlled games to their tempo, with players like Jandro Orellana and Moha kept the ball moving all over the pitch. There is no doubting their ability and were deserved champions this year.
Turkey sprung a surprise when they got as far as the semi-final only to lose 2-1 to England in a tight game. At half-time Turkey lost their influential midfielder Atalay Babacan who was excellent throughout the competition and they never really recovered.
Manager Mehmet Hacioglu will be delighted with how his side performed, having pushed Spain all the way in the group stage and beating both the hosts Croatia and then Italy. They now qualify for the World Cup in India later this year.
Despite conceding seven against Germany, the Republic of Ireland made it through to the quarter-finals which was an excellent achievement for Colin O’Brien’s side given their relative stature.
They had lost to Serbia, then beat Bosnia but looked out of their depth against technically superior and better organised German side.
They responded well against England in the quarter-final but just lacked the quality to cause them any problems. Aaron Connolly, currently at Brighton, was the Irish standout player in his four appearances.
Scotland were minutes away from sending France home at the group stage only for fatigue conspiring to allow the French to score in added time to go through and send the Scots home.
It was a good turnout for Scott Gemmill’s side, who took four points from a possible nine, thanks in part to Zak Rudden’s two goals, while Jack Aitchison showed why he’s so highly rated at Celtic with some impressive performances.
Hungary topped the group having beaten France in their opening game and they looked strong, quick and could easily have beaten the French again in the World Cup playoff. Kevin Csoboth and Dominik Szoboszlai scored four of their country’s seven goals as they just missed out on a semi-final place.
There is often so much expected from the Netherlands but despite getting to the quarter final, they didn’t have their usual flair and passing that we come to expect.
They claimed just four points from their group games, including draw with Norway who finished bottom. Zakaria Aboukhlal scored twice in their four games and looks a real talent with his skill and pace, but the Oranje must wait to claim a third under 17 title.
So, who were the standout players.
Jadon Sancho (England)
Manchester City have an absolute gem on their hands with this lightning quick, skilful player.
The left-winger caused no end of problems for the opposition when he picked the up the ball, causing defenders to back off and watch in terror. Jadon just accelerates past players as if they weren’t there.
His change of direction and quick feet are outstanding and has an eye for the goal.
His understanding on the pitch with the aforementioned Foden and Odoi was a joy to watch as they repeatedly got in behind the back line of the opposition.
He goes back to Manchester City with five goals and five assists and will certainly have clubs enquiring about his availability for next season.
Mateu Morey (Spain)
When you look at underage competitions for new players it’s easy to only look at attackers – they are the ones that standout and catch the eye – but not so for Mateu Morey.
The Spanish right-back was one of the best defenders in Croatia and finished the competition with three goals, including the equaliser in the final.
He only turned 17 in March and his composure on the ball for such a young age is a joy to watch. He plays with swagger, but certainly backs it up.
Mateu is contracted to Barcelona, who currently have massive problems at right-back and, with a new manager coming in next season, there is a glimmer of chance he could make a claim for a first team place.
He is still developing but with his energy, pace, passing qualities and composure Morey is looking destined for the big time.
Elias Abouchabaka (Germany)
Having eased through their group, Germany looked effortlessly comfortable on the ball, with confidence was oozing throughout their squad.
With three goals and two assists, Leipzig midfielder Abouchabaka was at the centre of anything good that came from the Germans.
Sitting in the number ten role, the 17-year-old found team mate after team mate with slick passing and movement.
The German press have compared him to Mesut Özil and if he continues in the way in which he performed at this championship he can be even better.
He’s energetic and looks for that killer pass. His decision making needs some work but he’s plenty of time on his hands to become a complete attacking midfielder.
Amine Gouiri (France)
France and Lyon have a goal machine on their hands in Amine Gouiri. In five appearances, he scored nine times and even found time to chip in with an assist.
His link up play Adli was outstanding, but it was his predatory instincts inside the 18-yard box that made him stand out. With 18 shots on target during the tournament, half of them found the net.
He’s quick, skilful and loves to put defenders on the back foot as soon as he picks the ball up. At just 17, he looks lethal in the box, his movement to find that extra yard is excellent and he loves a trademark curling shot off his right boot.
With the rumours of Alexandre Lacazette moving on this summer from Lyon, Gouiri might just have a chance to take his place in the first team.
Phil Foden (England)
Steve Cooper’s side had so many standout players over the last three weeks but the one that controlled them and made them tick was Phil Foden.
The midfielder dictated the games with a wand of a left foot that seen him score twice – including a thunderous drive in the final that looked to have sealed it for England.
He is highly rated at current club Manchester City, having made the bench in the Champions League this season, and is certainly one to watch out for over the next couple of years.
Abel Ruiz (Spain)
Another one from the La Masia conveyor belt is the strong, robust number nine, Abel Ruiz.
He was Spain’s captain and led the line extremely well bagging four goals from ten shots on target.
Added to that his three assists in six games and it was clear to see that his overall game was excellent.
He defended from the front with high pressing and made himself available when Spain had possession.
And when in possession he linked superbly with club team mate Sergi Gomez as they both caused havoc.
Jann-Fiete Arp (Germany)
Germany set a record of the most goals to be scored in a group stage when they struck 15 times in just three games.
At the heart of this free-scoring abandon was Jann Fiete Arp, who bagged himself two hat tricks, including one in just 13 minutes, and the centre forward would finish with seven goals in five games.
He does need to work on his decision making and passing, but he showed plenty of potential to make it at the top level.
He scored 26 times in 21 games for Hamburg’s under-17s and will certainly have Europe’s biggest clubs interested.
Yacine Adli (France)
The French were up against it from the off after they lost their group opener to Hungary 3-2.
Despite the defeat, one of the standout players not only on the day but throughout the tournament was Yacine Adli.
He is technically superb with a killer first touch and has the ability to tread that final pass through the eye of a needle.
With his distinctive hair style similar to Marouane Fellaini, the attacking midfielder can play either side or in the hole as a number 10.
His reading of the game is decent for his age, as he loves to drop into the pockets of space behind the midfield.
Yacine turns 17 in the summer and is currently plying his trade with Paris Saint-Germain, but giving his shown here of five assists and a goal it might not be long until he takes to the senior stage.