Thus far the European Under-21 Championships in Israel have been packed full of eye catching and noteworthy displays, just not from England's perspective. The familiarity with which the somewhat ironically named 'Three Lions' whimpered out of the tournament left very few shocked and eluded to a future that looks far from bright.
However, the performances of some of the teams at the tournament, and indeed their star players, will have left the fans excited about the quality that is coming through. In this piece we look at some of the best performers in the tournament so far, all of whom, in the most literal sense, are central to their side's progress.
We've chosen one from each of the semi-finalists and an honourable mention for a player whose impressive displays were unable to help his nation progress. We start with the latter, and an individual who will hope his displays caught the attention of the plethora of scouts at the tournament in his home nation.
Nir Biton (Israel)
An unmissable figure in the centre of midfield, 6'5" beanpole Nir Biton will be hoping for a move to Europe this summer having twice had trials with Manchester City in the past. The 21-year old scored the first goal of the tournament, netting from the penalty spot in the curtain raiser against Norway, and is one of a selection of players to have started all three games in the competition.
Indeed, of the 21 players to have played from the off in all three group matches, only Spain stars Alcantara and Isco have a better WhoScored rating than the Israeli (7.60). The host nation's captain made more tackles (16) than any other player in the group stages and was the starting point of most of his side's attacks, averaging a team high of 46.7 passes per game. A combative midfielder with an impressive range of passing, completing 18 out of 21 (86%) of his long ball attempts, Biton may finally earn the move he's been waiting for this summer.
Magnus Eikrem (Norway)
Having come through the youth ranks at Molde, midfielder Magnus Eikrem was snapped up by Manchester United on his 16th birthday. He was unable to progress as the club would have hoped though, and in 2011 he secured a return to Molde under the tutelage of United icon Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. In his first season back in Norway he helped the side win their first ever Tippligaen title, with the club retaining the top spot the following season.
At the age of just 22 he's been capped at senior international level 9 times, and his two starts at the Under 21 Championships thus far suggest he is ready to make the step up. The creative midfielder has averaged a team high of 2.5 key passes per game thus far, having also completed both of his through ball attempts. He's also delivered 5 accurate crosses, the most at the tournament so far from just 8 attempts, and fired home Norway's third against England, earning an average WhoScored rating of 7.65.
Marco van Ginkel (Netherlands)
20 year old midfielder Marco van Ginkel's performances for Vitesse this season were enough to draw admiring glances from both Ajax and Chelsea, though the former have conceded that they are unable to compete with the Blues' spending power. It seems more an more likely that he will end up at Stamford Bridge this summer, and he's certainly showed what he can do in Israel so far, helping the Netherlands progress out of an incredibly tough Group B.
The youngster can fit the box-to-box role under Mourinho, having scored 8 goals in Eredivisie this season, and he's shown in the tournament that his defensive ability is certainly up to scratch. The 6'1" midfielder has won an impressive 7 out of 9 aerial duels thus far (78%), as well as averaging 2 tackles per game. He can pick a pass too, completing an average of one accurate through ball, and picking up an assist from 1.5 key passes per game, having attempted 63.5 a match on average. In turn, he's earned an impressive WhoScored rating of 7.72.
Marco Verratti (Italy)
Keeping on the theme of Marcos, we've selected Italy's Verratti as the key to any potential progression past an impressive Netherlands unit. He's the one player here who certainly won't be on the move this summer, playing as he does for financial powerhouses PSG. The diminutive deep-lying playmaker is tipped to succeed Andrea Pirlo on the international scene, and though they are huge boots to fill few in Italy doubt his potential to do so.
For someone who stands just 5'5" tall, Verratti uses his short frame extremely well and is deceptively strong, particularly in possession. He keeps play ticking over with great ease, averaging a remarkable 130 passes per game in his two appearances in the tournament so far - a full 36 more than any other player – and completing 92.3% of said attempts. He leads the competition's outfielders for accurate long balls per game (11) and, averaging 1.5 key passes a match, his eye for a pass is evident. His reading of the game defensively is also impressive, with 3 interceptions per match, and a WhoScored rating of 7.20 could yet increase.
Undoubtedly one of the stars of the tournament so far, it's no surprise that Isco has been linked to some of Europe's biggest clubs, with Man City no doubt hoping that if Pellegrini does finally complete his switch to Eastlands, he'll be able to convince the 21-year old to come with him. Spain have been in some inspired form in the group stages, with Isco, Alcantara and Illarramendi running things for the pre-tournament favourites.
The Malaga playmaker made more chances for teammates than other player in the group stages (9), despite failing to pick up an assist as of yet. He did net a sublime chipped finish in the table-topping decider against Netherlands, one of 5 shots in the tournament thus far, while he's way ahead for successful dribbles, with six more than any other player (14). With 63.5 passes per game and an accuracy of 89.5% from those attempts, he can do the simple stuff too, and a WhoScored rating of 7.94 thus far is a big indication of the quality the young Spaniard possesses.