U21 Euro: Group B
The European Under-21 Championship gets underway in earnest on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports, and here's the best of what Group B will have to offer in Israel
By Jon Holmes - @jonboy79
Last Updated: 21/06/13 1:01pm
After Matchday One's action in Netanya and Tel Aviv has been completed in Group A, the European Under-21 Championship in Israel moves swiftly along to Jerusalem and Petah Tikva for the first round of Group B action.
Containing the top two favourites with the bookies, plus the obligatory 'dark horses' and also a squad made up of those hoping to play in a World Cup on home soil in five years' time, the scouts of the continent's biggest clubs are sure to be out in force all six games.
History: La Rojita's 2011 triumph, when they played some outstanding football which adhered to the passing principles of all recent Spanish success stories, was their third in the tournament's history. They also lifted the trophy in 1986 and 1998, and have twice been runners-up as well.
Qualifying and Form: Spain had racked up a healthy five-point lead by the time they closed their Group 5 campaign and were drawn to play Denmark in the play-offs. An emphatic 5-0 home win was followed by another 3-1 triumph in Aalborg and they beat fellow finalists Norway and Russia in March friendlies.
Coach and Style: Julen Lopetegui is a former Rayo Vallecano goalkeeper who was called upon to replace Luis Milla 10 months ago. Although Milla had masterminded Spain's joyous displays in Jutland, he was dismissed from his post after overseeing the hugely disappointing early exit at the London 2012 Olympics. He's now coaching Al Jazira in the UAE, as his former charges come to the Middle East hunting back-to-back titles. Spain under Lopetegui boast great discipline as well as their trademark flair, rarely conceding fouls in dangerous areas.
Star Player: Isco is one of many outstanding talents in the Spain squad, but with six goals and five assists in qualifying, his overall contributions matched that of even Rodrigo, who was the top scorer across the whole continent. He's expected to leave Malaga in the summer - and possibly follow Manuel Pellegrini to Manchester City - but more stellar displays in Israel could add a few extra euros to his price-tag.
One to Watch: It's hard to pick a Spain player likely to start that might be at all unfamiliar to seasoned observers of European football, but Real Sociedad centre-back Inigo Martinez at least has the opportunity to impress more fans ahead of his club's debut Champions League campaign next season. If he stays at Anoeta that is; he's much fancied to sign for Barcelona.
Possible line-up: De Gea; Montoya, Bartra, Inigo Martinez, Muniesa; Koke, Camacho; Isco, Thiago, Muniain; Rodrigo.
History: You'd be forgiven for thinking that fresh-faced Mannschaft sides of yesteryear would have a strong record of success at this level, but in fact the Sweden 2009 victory of Ozil, Khedira and co was their first in U21 Euro finals. As West Germany, they were runners-up in 1982 but appearances in the latter stages have been somewhat sporadic.
Qualifying and Form: Having topped Group 1 by an emphatic eight points, Germany were presented with one of the toughest draws possible - Switzerland, the runners-up at Denmark 2011 who were still able to call upon several survivors of that squad. The Swiss battled hard in the first leg and took the tie back to Lucerne level at 1-1 - only for the Germans to prevail 3-1 in the second leg.
Coach and Style: A former defender but a very attacking manager, Rainer Adrion was rewarded for his positive intentions as his side stuck away 43 goals in qualifying - comfortably the most of any competing nation. Germany are very difficult to contain and tend to force a lot of corners, but that does leave them susceptible to the counter-attack.
Star Player: Lewis Holtby is still settling in at Tottenham after his January switch from Schalke, having been primarily tasked with getting the ball to Gareth Bale as quickly as possible. However, he's much more integral to the way that Germany U21s play, driving the midfield forward and taking plenty of shots himself - he contributed five goals in qualifying.
One to Watch: Like Italy counterpart Devis Mangia, Adrion has a rich abundance of striking talent to call upon but his most prolific pick up front has been Borussia Monchengladbach's Peniel Mlapa. Togolese by birth, he averages nearly a goal every other game for his adoptive country.
Possible line-up: Leno; Jantschke, Thesker, Sobiech, Sorg; Funk, Holtby, Moritz; Volland, Mlapa, Lasogga
History: The Jong Oranje claimed their first U21 Euro title in the 2006 tournament in Portugal, and were able to celebrate a repeat success 12 months later on home soil as the tournament moved to odd-numbered years.
Qualifying and Form: Slovakia were put to the sword in 2-0 scorelines both home and away in the play-offs, after the Dutch had topped Group 10 by six points, despite failing to beat Scotland in their two meetings.
Coach and Style: Although Spain and Germany are the favourites to get out of Group B, Cor Pot has been able to bring 12 players who have been capped at senior international level with him to Israel - making Holland the best 'dark horse' shout at these finals. Even their top scorer in qualifying, Genero Zeefuik, couldn't make the cut. The assistant to Dick Advocaat when Zenit St Petersburg won the UEFA Cup final in Manchester in 2008, Pot has created a relaxed atmosphere in the squad, but there are certainly no slackers as a goals against tally of just three in qualifying would suggest.
Star Player: Luuk de Jong was targeted by several Premier League clubs (most notably Newcastle) when the time came for him to leave FC Twente but instead chose the transition from Eredivisie to Bundesliga with Borussia Monchengladbach. He has found goals much harder to come by in Germany but remains an accomplished finisher when given the service - and the Netherlands are certainly blessed with ample creativity.
One to Watch: Marco van Ginkel has been spoken of a potential Jose Mourinho signing for the Special One's second coming at Chelsea. Wherever he decides to go, the teenage attacking midfielder - who netted both goals in the play-off win away to the Slovaks - is sure to generate some significant revenue for Vitesse Arnhem. One of Van Ginkel's hallmarks is his accurate shooting - no player got more attempts on target in qualifying than him.
Possible line-up: Zoet; Van Rhijn, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind; Strootman, Maher, van Ginkel; Wijnaldum, de Jong, Ola John.
History: Russia have two Euro titles to their name at U21 level, in 1980 and 1990 - they beat East Germany and Yugoslavia respectively over two legs. This is their first appearance in the finals sine 1998.
Qualifying and Form: After pipping Portugal by two points at the summit of Group 6, a showdown with the Czech Republic came out of the hat for Russia in the play-off draw. They put in the hard work away from home with a 2-0 win and although the Czechs responded strongly in Yekaterinburg, a 2-2 draw completed the job on aggregate.
Coach and Style: Nikolai Pisarev was hoisted aloft by his jubilant players after they booked their berth in Israel, a sign of the nature of his stewardship - not as authoritarian as Russian youth teams of the past, of which Pisarev was himself a member in 1990. Perhaps his sense of fun comes from the fact he used to coach the national beach soccer team. However, with a less regimented approach, carelessness sometimes follows and Russia do tend to give away a lot of fouls.
Star Player: Alan Dzagoev shared the Golden Boot with five other players at Euro 2012, a consolation of sorts after Russia squandered the platform provided by a strong start to the tournament. He's just picked up his first Russian Premier League title with CSKA Moscow and although he will miss the opening match due to Spain due to a senior call-up, he will probably be the centre of attention against Holland and Germany.
One to Watch: Left winger Denis Cheryshev will be hoping to come into contention for more game time at Real Madrid next season under a new manager, having served his apprenticeship with the Castilla squad. He's demonstrated his potential on several occasions with the U21s, most notably in the qualifier against Poland when he bagged a classy brace.
Possible line-up: Zabolotny; Tsallagov, Chicherin, Burlak, Schennikov; Petrov, Kirillov, Shatov, Cheryshev; Dzagoev, Smolov.
Watch the England Under-21 team in action this summer only on Sky Sports, with live and exclusive coverage of the UEFA European U21 Championship - and for more updates during the tournament in Israel, follow Jon on Twitter at @jonboy79.