From Mario Balotelli and Marcus Berg to Bojan Krkić and Theo Walcott, uefa.com picks a rising star for each of the finalists who could make a telling contribution at the upcoming Under-21 final tournament in Sweden.
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uefa.com selects eight rising stars who could make a telling contribution at this month's UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Sweden.
Belarus: Sergei Kryvets
Qualifying record: 8 appearances, 3 goals
Date of birth: 8 June 1986
Club: FC BATE Borisov
Sergei Kryvets was the brightest spark of Belarus's qualifying campaign, forcing his way into the side in their third match and impressing with his versatility, creativity and scoring prowess. Physically commanding, Kryvets was often deployed in a defensive midfield role but sees himself more as a playmaker and was occasionally used on the right wing. A successful first taste of the UEFA Champions League with FC BATE Borisov boosted his confidence as he made his mark in Europe's top club competition with a goal in a 2-2 draw with Juventus. He also struck three times in U21 qualifying, being second only to Dmitri Komarovski – on four – in the team's goal chart.
Italy: Mario Balotelli
Qualifying record: 3 appearances, 3 goals
Date of birth: 12 August 1990
Club: FC Internazionale Milano
Tipped to "achieve big things in the future" by Italy coach Marcello Lippi, Mario Balotelli should not have to wait long for his senior international debut. Having made his professional bow for Lumezzane Calcio in Serie C1 aged just 15, Balotelli was signed by FC Internazionale Milano in 2006 and scored three goals in eleven Serie A outings in 2007/08 as the Nerazzurri won the Scudetto. He also managed four goals in as many Coppa Italia games to top-score in that competition. Not surprisingly he was an instant hit with the Azzurrini after receiving his Italian passport on turning 18. Born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents but fostered by a Brescia family from the age of two, he netted on his debut in a 1-1 draw with Greece and twice more in the 3-1 play-off win in Israel that took Italy through.
Serbia: Gojko Kačar
Qualifying record: 8 appearances, 6 goals
Date of birth: 26 January 1987
Club: Hertha BSC Berlin
Leader of Serbia's new generation, Gojko Kačar is a coach's dream. Built like a boxer – his uncle Tadija was a silver medallist as a light middleweight at the 1976 Olympics – he has boundless energy and is equally confident at centre-back, in midfield or up front. Though Kačar missed the qualifying play-off against Denmark through injury, he had written his name into the history books by becoming the first Serb to score five times in an international in the 8-0 defeat of Hungary on 7 September. Kačar started out as a central defender, but turned striker after registering eleven goals in the first half of the 2007/08 season for FK Vojvodina. He then dropped into midfield after joining Hertha BSC Berlin midway through the same campaign. Part of the Serbia side that reached the U21 final in 2007, he boasts a handful of senior caps.
Sweden: Marcus Berg
Date of Birth: 17 August 1986
Club: FC Groningen
After two prolific seasons at FC Groningen, Sweden will hope Marcus Berg can continue his scoring spree at the U21 finals on home soil. Berg is fast and skilful but it is his eye for goal that sets him apart. A true poacher, he notched 15 Eredivisie goals in 2007/08 and was the Dutch club's leading marksman again this term with 17. Berg joined Groningen from Allsvenskan champions-elect IFK Göteborg halfway through the 2007 Swedish campaign, in which he still top-scored with 14 goals from 17 games. He has been no less lethal in Dutch football since netting twice on his third Eredivisie outing against AFC Ajax. Berg was rewarded with his senior Sweden debut in a 0-0 friendly draw with Turkey in February 2008, and now has six full caps. Hailing from Torsby, a small town in the Varmland region, he remains its second favourite footballing son – chances are, though, that one day he will overtake a certain Sven-Göran Eriksson.
England: Theo Walcott
Qualifying record: 7 appearances, 1 goal
Date of Birth: 16 March 1989
Club: Arsenal FC
Blessed with blistering pace, super control and an eye for goal, the Arsenal FC forward is one of the English game's most exciting prospects. Walcott joined Arsenal from Southampton FC for €17.5m in January 2006 and has quickly set about realising his potential. He became the youngest player to represent England when making his senior bow aged 17 years and 75 days in a 3-1 win against Hungary in May 2006. He promptly received a surprise call-up for the FIFA World Cup squad for Germany. His true international breakthrough, though, came last September when he struck a hat-trick in a 4-1 World Cup qualifying victory in Croatia. Walcott's commitments with Fabio Capello's senior team restricted his U21 appearances this season, yet his value to the side remains immense. Remember that it was his brilliant second-leg double against play-off rivals Germany that ensured England's place in the 2007 tournament in the Netherlands.
Finland: Tim Sparv
Qualifying record: 9 appearances, 3 goals
Date of Birth: 20 February 1987
Club: Halmstads BK
Tim Sparv is Finland's beating heart, as team leader, attacking conduit and first line of defence. The midfielder is also captain – a responsibility he carries with ease – and penalty-taker, with the latter task explaining why he finished qualifying as the side's three-goal leading scorer. Each of those spot-kicks proved decisive, resulting in a trio of 1-0 wins against Denmark, Slovenia and Lithuania. At 1.94m he stands above the fray, and if in the Peter Crouch mould physically, Sparv is strong in the tackle and hard to shake off the ball. He began his career at Norrvalla FF before joining Southampton in 2003, playing in the same youth side as England's Walcott. A lack of first-team opportunities prompted a move to Sweden's Halmstads BK in 2007 and, following a short loan stint at VPS Vaasa, he broke into the Halmstad lineup during the 2008 Allsvenskan campaign.
Germany: Mesut Özil
Qualifying record: 8 appearances, 4 goals
Date of Birth: 15 October 1988
Club: Werder Bremen
The exciting playmaker has enjoyed a breakthrough season at club level, finishing with a flourish by scoring the only goal of Werder Bremen's German Cup final victory over Bayer 04 Leverkusen on 30 May. Born in Gelsenkirchen, he launched his Bundesliga career with home-town side FC Schalke 04 before a €5m switch to Bremen in January 2008. If eyebrows were raised over the size of the transfer fee, few would now argue it was not money well spent – such is Mesut Özil's vision, passing range and, increasingly, eye for goal. Özil, who made his full Germany debut in February, has clearly benefited from working alongside Juventus-bound Diego in the Bremen midfield. The 20-year-old set up 15 goals and scored three more in the 2008/09 Bundesliga, as well as being a key performer in the team's run to the UEFA Cup final.
Spain: Bojan Krkić
Qualifying record: 6 appearances, 3 goals
Date of Birth: 28 August 1990
Club: FC Barcelona
Still only 18, FC Barcelona's Bojan Krkić has already built a reputation as a feared marksman in Spain's top flight. Having made remarkable progress through his club's youth ranks, the forward won starring roles in Spain's international youth sides, scoring the winning goal against England in the 2007 UEFA European U17 Championship final. Renowned Spanish youth coach Juan Santisteban once said of the teenager: "I have never seen such quality and imagination in a player." Bojan has since proved his former trainer right, becoming the youngest Barcelona player both to appear in the UEFA Champions League and to find the net in the Liga. Though perhaps still not fully developed physically, his electric pace, assured first touch and killer instinct in front of goal should bring an abundance of success in the future.