Opportunity knocked for Europe's Under-21 stars in Portugal and there was no shortage of talented players ready to step on to the big stage and impress.
Eleven men were left standing as the UEFA European Under-21 Championship concluded in Porto on Sunday night. However, to abridge the story of 15 matches into one winning chapter does scant justice to the seven other competing teams and their tales of sorrow and joy. The uefa.com staff writers here in Portugal have considered the merits of all 176 players present over the last fortnight to come up with a cross-section representative of the tournament as a whole: uefa.com's Team of the Tournament.
Goalkeeper: Steve Mandanda (France)
In a championship hardly short on goalkeeping talent – Andriy Pyatov and Vladimir Stojković deserve passing mentions – the 21-year-old Mandanda took the plaudits. Surprisingly named as France's No1 ahead of Jérémy Gavanon, the agile Le Havre AC custodian justified René Girard's faith by keeping three clean sheets in the group stage and also impressing in the semi-final loss to the Netherlands, where only three outstanding goals got past him.
Right-back: Dwight Tiendalli (Netherlands)
Although Gijs Luirink excelled in a central role throughout these finals, it needed Tiendalli's return from a knee injury to unite the Netherlands back line after defensive confusion had led to the conceding of soft goals against Ukraine and Denmark. The 20-year-old FC Utrecht right-back added both defensive grit and attacking verve down that flank, linking superbly with two-goal Nicky Hofs in the success against fancied France.
Centre-back: Dmytro Chygrynskiy (Ukraine)
With his long hair and socks rolled halfway down his calves, Ukraine's No6 resembles a graduate from the 1970s school of hard knocks. Appearances, though, can be deceptive: the FC Shakhtar Donetsk centre-half is still only 19. There is silk to complement the colossal Chygrynskiy's steely looks, and it was a common sight to see him striding purposefully out of defence and, with an accurate pass, moving Ukraine's sphere of operations further upfield.
Centre-back: Milan Stepanov (Serbia and Montenegro)
Alongside central defensive colleague Milan Biševac, the 23-year-old Trabzonspor player was held up as an example by coach Dragomir Okuka following his team's opening-day defeat against Germany. Stepanov subsequently turned in a match-of-the-match performance in the victory against Portugal that ultimately sent Serbia and Montenegro into the semi-finals. He and Biševac were Okuka's twin peaks, and if Biševac was the dressing-room leader, Stepanov caught the eye with his strength and mobility.
Left-back: Urby Emanuelson (Netherlands)
Competing with Olexandr Romanchuk for the honour, the 19-year-old AFC Ajax tyro took the vote on the strength of his display in the final when his Ukrainian counterpart was dismissed. Despite suffering from tiredness after his breakthrough season at the Amsterdam ArenA, Emanuelson commanded the entire left side of the pitch from his defensive berth, bringing an extra dimension to Foppe de Haan's attacking play with his pace and crossing.
Right midfield: Thomas Kahlenberg (Denmark)
Came into the competition having had the most assists in Ligue 1 in his first season with AJ Auxerre, and followed that with the impressive feat of being the only player here in Portugal to score in every game. The 23-year-old finished with three in three, his desire and energy having taken him into a position to round off Danish attacks from inside the penalty area. Nominally a right-sided midfielder, his power and pace make him a factotum in the Steven Gerrard mould.
Centre midfield: Ismaïl Aissati (Netherlands)
Although the youngest at 17, Aissati was perhaps the most exciting player on show in Portugal. The PSV Eindhoven prodigy was unafraid to carry the ball forward, with a trick here and a flick there, while retaining a midfield maturity beyond his years. Even in the dying seconds of an exhausting semi-final epic against France, Aissati found the necessary fuel for a run and shot that very nearly clinched victory. If eclipsed last night by captain Stijn Schaars, he nonetheless gets the nod on account of his shining talent.
Centre midfield: Rio Antonio Mavuba (France)
The FC Girondins de Bordeaux midfielder was destined for greatness even before these finals, having won five full caps. Here Les Bleuets' captain led from the front, not least with the crucial second goal in the group match against Germany. Picking up possession inside his own half, the 22-year-old surged forward leaving two defenders in his wake before applying a perfect finish to score. Equally adept at tackling and passing, Mavuba has it all.
Left midfield: Jérémy Toulalan (France)
Typically of this elegant practitioner of the midfield arts, Toulalan timed his arrival on the big stage to perfection. The summer of his transfer to French champions Olympique Lyonnais has coincided with Zinédine Zidane's international swansong, and Toulalan, 22, underlined his senior claim with visionary displays down the France left, where he was a constant feature. An upright figure, always at ease on the ball and deceptive to markers, he also stroked in a beautiful goal against Serbia and Montenegro.
Forward: Artem Milevskiy (Ukraine)
Was Ukraine's star man en route to the final, with two goals and two man-of-the-match awards, despite succumbing to injury early in the semi-final. The 21-year-old Dynamo Kyiv striker is an amalgam of strength and skill, although his centre-forward's height belies the fundamental grace, almost balletic, of his natural game. A languid figure, he was nonetheless his team's attacking focus, and his strike against Denmark won the group for the tournament's surprise package.
Forward: Klaas Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands)
The game of the finals also saw its finest goal: Huntelaar brilliantly chipping the imperious Mandanda to make it 2-0 to the Netherlands in their last-four defeat of France. Despite his long club season and disappointment at being overlooked for FIFA World Cup duty, the lanky AFC Ajax front-man was a tireless worker and willing centre point for the Jong Oranje. The 22-year-old had announced himself with his side's breakthrough goal against Denmark, and ended up as the championship's four-goal top scorer with two in the final against Ukraine.
The uefa.com U21 Team of the Tournament does not bear the official UEFA imprimatur.