by Justin Sousa
GK – Alessandro Plizzari
Though Italy conceded just three goals prior to this year’s final, it is no accurate reflection of the heedless mistakes the defenders were prone to making. It is instead a testament to just how pivotal Plizzari’s goalkeeping heroics were to his side’s eventual runners-up finish.
Italy could have very well started the tournament in embarrassing fashion had Plizzari not denied Finland from scoring on three one-on-one opportunities. The Italian shot-stopper even went full-stretch in the dying minutes of the match to deny a long-range effort from Jaakko Oksanen and seal the three points. Plizzari’s net was only breached against Portugal due to poor marking on a Miguel Luis header and to a superbly struck shot by Domingos Quina. Though Italy overall were defensively sound in their semifinal victory over France, Plizzari was the star of the show once again denying Moussa Diaby on several occasions and claiming a rather tame last minute effort by Amine Gouiri. Even a seven-goal thriller, Plizzari showed immense confidence coming off his line and claiming loose balls in the early moments of the tournament final.
Though Plizzari showed nerves in his decision making from crosses, the Italian’s knack for acrobatic saves made for an entertaining performance every match and proved to be his standout out attribute. His ability to close down angles and suffocate forwards in one-on-one positions was undoubtedly his most important goalkeeping trait. If not for a defensive meltdown in the final, Plizzari would have been the hero of Italy’s theoretical tournament triumph.
RWB – Francisco Trincão
For Portuguese fans and neutrals who tuned in to this year’s U-19 European Championship, Francisco Trincao’s unexpected goal-scoring prowess came as a pleasant surprise.
Trincao proved to be both a technically gifted right winger and natural-born poacher inside the box. As children players are taught to “crash the net” or follow up on shots whether it be their own or a teammates and its clear to see Trincao was a big fan of the concept. If he was not gliding by fullbacks with mesmerizing ball control, he was most likely gobbling up the scraps of a teammate’s shot for his own goal tally. However, credit is due to his wondrous left boot for producing two perfectly placed shots that nestled in the bottom corner on both occasions. The power behind them and the collective calmness with which he took both shots were exemplary of the winger’s free-flowing aesthetic on the field.
On top of his goal scoring, Trincao was arguably the best dribbler of the tournament averaging 12 dribbles per game and completed 44 (73%) of his attempted 60 dribbles. He hit double digits on dribbles completed on two occasions this tournament with 12/15 against Ukraine in the semifinal and 13/17 against Norway in Portugal’s tournament opener. The Portuguese winger brought fans to their feet as his trickery and deceptive feints left opponents on the ground in a dysfunctional heap.
Trincao’s creativity from wide positions dragged out defenders and opened acres of space for Domingos Quina or Miguel Luis to make late runs into the box. Even Joao Filipe and Ze Gomes found themselves in opportunistic offensive positions due to all the attention their fellow forward attracted from the opposition. After an exhilarating five goal and three assist hall from this summer’s tournament, Braga will be excited to see just how much more their emerging talent can develop with their B-squad and even the first team.
RCB – Romain Correia
Whether he lined up beside Diogo Queirós or David Carmo, Romain Correia was the everpresent calming influence on Portugal’s backline. The Vitoria Guimarães product played every minute of every match for the eventual champions and hardly ever put a foot wrong in their run to tournament glory. With Diogo Leite on preseason duty with FC Porto and Quierós falling out of favor during the tournament, Correia rose to prominence at the right time for his nation.
As the anchor of Portugal’s defense, Correia’s consistent defensive coverage allowed for both Ruben Vinagre and Thierry Correia to bomb forward without leaving gaps in behind their backline. Thierry Correia struggled to match Moise Kean’s pace and strength in both the final and the group stage matches against Italy and was bailed out of trouble most of the time by Correia’s positional discipline. Vinagre’s penchant for mazet strides forward also benefited from his teammates knack for being in the right place at the right time to slow down counter attacks.
Along with his relaxed style of defending, Correia also instilled patience in the build-up of every Portuguese attack. The center back recognized when Portugal’s more creative players became frustrated with stubborn defenses and would offer himself as an outlet in order to recycle possession or avoid his teammates from needlessly losing possession with forced passes. It slowed down Portugal’s movement at times, but it kept their opposition chasing the ball and eventually opened gaps through which incisive final passes could be played into the forwards.
CB – Boubacar Kamara
Boubacar Kamara was one of the most composed and assured players at the U19 European Championships. The fact that he plays as a centre-back and not a fleet-of-foot number ten was surprising to begin with taking into account his skill set on the pitch. Kamara — upon first viewing — appears to be a rather erratic risk-taker of a defender. However, the more you watch the 18-year-old, the more it becomes clear that he is in complete control.
His performances were pivotal to ensuring France made it to the semi-finals, shoring the defence up at the back in the absence of the suspended Malang Sarr. He allowed the more exciting flair players to wreak havoc in the final third, while he very capably stayed at home.
He was not very easily bullied, and stood his ground against the likes of Moise Kean and other attackers with more top flight experience. Kamara’s profile made him the perfect player to play through out from the back, completing nearly 78 passes per game and averaging a completion rate of 96.5% across France’s four matches. His side may have over-relied on his intelligence off the ball to deal with counter attacks, but his 5.5 interceptions per game is no statistic to scoff out for a team who relied on full throttle offensive play to push them to a title.
All in all, Kamara impressed with his composure on the ball, his vision and his positional discipline at this year’s tournament.
CB – Davide Bettella
At the heart of the Italian back line, Davide Bettella proved to be a grueling defender for forwards to get through.
As opposed to the rather no-nonsense defending the rest of his defensive line adopted during the tournament, Bettella looked to be the foundation that Italy needed in order to play out from the back. His agility and eye for long balls complimented the physical dominance and natural defensive instincts of center back partner Gianmaria Zanandrea to form one of the most durable backlines in the tournament.
Unless Moise Kean started, Italy’s game plan was often quite clear: route one football. From the get-go Andrea Pinamonti and Gianluca Scamacca were the target men for Italy, battering and harassing defenders to win the initial flick-on for overlapping wingers or midfielders. Although Bettella prefers to play out from the back, he looked fairly comfortable adapting to a more direct approach. His awareness of Pinamonti’s or Scamacca’s position was excellent, adjusting each pass to find the head of one of the forwards or play them directly through on goal.
Bettella matched every forward he faced stride for stride, highlighting both his industrial work rate and bringing attention to his footballing intelligence. Quickly modifying his defensive approach based on the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents, the Italian almost always remained a step ahead of his opposite number.
LWB – Rúben Vinagre
It has been quite the year for Ruben Vinagre, winning the EFL Championship with Wolverhampton in May and completing a permanent move to the newly promoted Premier League outfit from AS Monaco. Despite missing part his club’s preseason, Vinagre will return having played every minute for Portugal and with the confidence of a champion.
The sight of Vinagre bombing forward from the flank became a hallmark of Portugal’s tournament. He enjoyed dragging defenders towards him with mazey runs, allowing simple passes to find Domingos Quina or Miguel Luis unmarked and with plenty of time on the ball. He was a consistent outlet Portugal’s center backs looked towards to relinquish pressure and progress play forward. Even under pressure Vinagre’s first touch was as soft as a feather, and his strength to hold off players on the dribble surprised many given his slim build.
A minor flaw in the fullbacks game, however, was his tendency to be overconfident in his dribbling abilities. The space left behind him left Portugal vulnerable to counter attacks from his side as he only completed about 54% of his 48 attempted dribbles. However, when Vinagre was in full momentum, there was no stopping him from dropping a dime into the penalty area.
CM – Michaël Cuisance
Michaël Cuisance had a brilliant U-19 European Championship campaign and, had France reached the final, would have been a real contender for Player of the Tournament. The Frenchman’s influence within Bernard Diomède’s side cannot be understated.
His linking role between France’s sturdy rearguard and their enthralling, exciting attacking triumvirate was pivotal to their free-scoring exploits. Cuisance’s ability to play in between the lines was something which set him apart from almost every one of the tournament’s other players. His vision and creativity, married with the technique and deftness of touches to carry out some of his more intricate passes were a joy to behold.
Cuisance’s metronomic control over France’s offensive tempo was evidently missing his side’s opening match of the tournament. The gap between midfield and defense was far too wide and allowed for either Heorhii Tsitaishvili or Vladyslav Supriaha to retrieve Ukrainian clearances and feed the other a menacing through ball. While Cuisance does not necessarily add defensive solidarity to his midfield, his presence between the lines suffocates the space his opponents are able to work in if they break France’s first line of defense.
It was clear to see the Borussia Mönchengladbach teenager’s pedigree and experience; he certainly stood out as one of the more cultured players.
CM – Domingos Quina
The livewire of Portugal’s three-man midfield, Domingos Quina never seemed to run out of steam on either side of the ball. We noted in last year’s competition that Quina is an industrial workhorse, galloping from touch line to touch line and striding through midfield with ease. While that remained very much the same in this year’s tournament, there has been an evident improvement in the Portuguese midfielder’s close control from last year resulting in him being the fourth most fouled player throughout the tournament.
We also touched upon his lack of direct contribution to his team's goals but, given he has clearly established himself as the box-to-box midfielder, there wasn’t a heavy reliance on him to produce the same numbers as Trincao or Filipe. Yet, given his only goal of the tournament was a thunderous long-range shot against Italy, his knack for the unexpected spectacular is still present in his game a year on.
Perhaps his most notable improvement from last year’s tournament is the overall control and composure he displayed. Quina not only paraded midfield to close down his opponents, but he retained possession afterwards rather than rush a pass to his teammates or settle for a throw-in. His confidence was on another level, and it showed in the way he effortlessly carried the ball forward to lead Portugal’s attack at times. He only granted possession to his teammates in these situations if he was certain the ball could go forward and penetrate a defensive line. If there was a most improved award at this tournament, Quina would have been the undisputed favorite.
RW - Amine Gouiri
Amine: a menace. Gouiri was a thorn in the side of every team France came up against in the Group Stage. Having scored four goals in just 93 minutes it was easy to see that it would take a tactical masterclass to nullify the Olympique Lyonnais man’s influence.
His role off the bench killed off England, while his starting role against Turkey was instrumental in ensuring the match was a foregone conclusion by half-time. He reacted quickest to loose balls, managed to slip off the shoulder of defenders but equally give his marker a real task by using his great strength and great dexterity to hold off challenges before either applying a finish or finding a teammate.
In the majority of France’s games, Gouiri made his opponents look like mere inconveniences as he romped to joint second top scorer at the tournament.
ST - Moise Kean
The poster boy of this Italy U19 squad, and following his role in the final against Portugal, one could argue the poster boy for the entire tournament. Kean possesses such personality and determination, displayed by his constant, powerful, purposeful running in behind, which wasn’t always fruitful but caused havoc on numerous occasions.
Italy’s opening group win over eventual winners Portugal was affected massively by the sending off of Portuguese captain Diogo Quierós. Kean ran through on goal and held off Quierós who subsequently fouled the Italian. His second goal in the final along with his multiple opportunities on the counter against France in the semi-final all showed how well Kean knew his role, both physically and tactically.
Reminiscent of a young Mario Balotelli, Moise Kean’s explosive pace and brutal power was no surprise given he faced defenders nearly twice his age on a consistent basis last season. The drastic change in Italy’s control over a match drastically changed depending on whether Kean was on the field or not. Unlike Pinamonti or Scamacca, the Juventus youngster was able to change his approach to a match based on the strengths of his defender. Whether it be matching the physicality of a tight-marking defender or burning one for pace when given the space, the Juventus youngster almost always found a way to beat his man.
A four goal haul for a player who did not start every match is a respectable tally, and nothing less than a player with his experience and clear individual talent should expect.
LW - João Filipe, Jota
For Joao Filipe, the saying “better late than never” seems to completely personify his performance at this year’s U19 European Championship. It took two games for Filipe to find his feet in this Portuguese squad, but once he scored his first against Finland the winger could not be stopped. He was instrumental to Portugal breaking down the most defensively sound team of the tournament in Ukraine and provided a brace that to help Portugal just get by Italy in the final.
One Scouted Football admin likened Filipe’s style of play to that of Eden Hazard given his acute dribbling, low center of gravity, and ability to retain possession through multiple challenges. Similar to the Belgian, Filipe is an absolute menace for defenders to keep in check without giving away a free kick. As he edged closer and closer to the box, Filipe would dish out his flashy step overs and ankle-breaking cutbacks in an effort to draw fouls from his defenders.
In the absence of Benfica teammate, Filipe stepped up as Portugal’s main man on counter attacks. Both Filipe and Trincao thrived on the hold up play of Jose Gomes and killer through balls from the likes of Miguel Luis and Domingos Quina from midfield. At that point, both wingers went off to the races and almost always finished off the move with a goal or assist.
GK – Yehvann Diouf
Following France’s route to the knockout stage, they were tipped - and rightly so - to be tournament winners. They had obliterated Turkey and England scoring ten and conceding none over those two matches. It would be easy to overlook the defensive element to France’s squad due to their multiple exciting attackers, but a player like Yéhvann Diouf must not be ignored.
The thing that made Diouf stand out were not his smart reaction saves, but rather his ability with the ball at his feet. He seemed at ease in possession and adept at finding a teammate rather than launching the ball up the pitch and forfeiting possession. One of France’s most aesthetic and well-worked goals began from Diouf playing out from the back, and ended around fifteen seconds later as France scored a beautifully-worked goal.
Diouf wasn’t just your standard goalkeeper, he contributed to build up as well as keeping France in the tournament up to the semi-final stage.
CB – Valeriy Bondar
Up until their semi-final collapse at the hands of the Portuguese, Valeriy Bondar’s Ukraine had been the most consistent and strictest defence. His performances against the likes of France were assured, mature and disciplined, quelling the threat of the flighty, technical French attackers.
Bondar’s positioning was impressive, emphasized but the insane six interceptions he averaged per game. Bondar made 7 interceptions in every one of Ukraine’s Group Stage matches and frustrated forwards with his ability to always be a step ahead of their movements.
He further justified his captain’s armband with his communication skills on the field. The center back’s voice could always be heard barking orders at his teammates to keep their defensive structure and shut down their opponents the moment they crossed into their defensive third.
FB – Raoul Bellanova
As one of the most well-rounded fullbacks of the tournament, Raoul Bellanova captivated us with his instinctive offensive prowess and no-nonsense defensive work rate.
Italy never played the most enthralling football at this tournament, but the efficiency of players such as Bellanova made them difficult to break down defensively and slow down offensively. Every run was meticulously thought out to ensure an end product, whether it be a dangerous cross or simply relieving pressure from his defense.
Bar the defensive collapse in the tournament final, Italy’s stonewall defense owes much of its prominence to Bellanova’s tireless engine perading up and down the sideline to close down the opposition.
With Gedson Fernandes remaining with Benfica for preseason, a lot of responsibility was placed upon fellow club teammate Florentino Luis to step up and take charge of midfield.
Luis contributed to his side’s defensive responsibilities, acting as the shield in front of Portugal’s back four and shutting down his opponents before they could surpass their own half. He possesses a rare work rate that would tire fans just from watching him, but it allowed both Domingos Quina and Miguel Luis to push further forward and contribute to the goals.
Though Fernandes has already established a starting role in Benfica’s midfield, it should be no surprise to see Luis challenging his teammate for that position later in the season.
AM – Nicolò Zaniolo
Zaniolo’s place on the bench should not be taken in the sense that he was a mediocre talent from this tournament, but instead as a testament to how stocked it was with impressive center midfielders from almost every squad.
The Italian’s skill set, though admittedly lethal, is a rather unusual culmination of crisp finishing both with his feet and head, physical strength, immaculate technique, and pinpoint passing. At 6’3”, most would immediately stereotype him to be a midfield destroyer. Though it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think he could fulfil this role, Zaniolo’s midfield magic was far too instrumental to Italy’s attack to waste it on defensive responsibilities.
AM –Rafik Guitane
Rafik Guitane was deployed primarily in a central role for France U19, mostly akin to a number ten position. His goals in the early matches of the Group Stage came due to his ability to find small pockets of space in between the lines and in the final third.
His link-up with Mickaël Cuisance who played more in the number eight mould, was a highlight of France’s attacking through the middle and was crucial to advancing Les Bleuets’ play. Much like his compatriots, he did seem to struggle to influence matches where France were perhaps matched by their opponents, as opposed to games where France dominated the ball and the space from the early stages.
FW – Moussa Diaby
Diaby enjoyed an exciting, enthralling tournament in Finland, displaying cunning intelligence with the timing of his runs as well as his immense physical attributes. The PSG man’s raw pace and low centre of gravity meant that his role on the right flank caused almost every defender trouble that he came up against.
The only criticism would be that he was simply not consistent enough. During France’s opening and final matches against Ukraine and Italy respectively, Diaby went missing for large periods. However, when he was visible, he was impossible to miss. He influenced matches almost effortlessly with his undying electricity in attack.
One of the tournament’s most creative players, his style is a real throwback to traditional wingers of old, barrelling down the wings at speed, while servicing their centre forwards.
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