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The kids are all right

The action is under way for the Chelsea youngsters competing in this year’s European Under-21 Championship and there has been plenty of success for people with Blues links at previous tournaments.

Tammy Abraham, Jay Dasilva, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori are in the England squad led at the tournament by captain Jake Clarke-Salter, with all five Blues featuring in their opening match in Italy against France.

They are hoping to give the Three Lions their third European Under-21 title after a long wait. England’s previous two victories came in back-to-back competitions in 1982 and 1984, when the side was managed by the late Chelsea legend Dave Sexton, assisted by former Blues midfielder Terry Venables.

After his spell guiding the Blues to our first-ever FA Cup victory and European silverware, Sexton joined the national set-up in 1977, and his success in beating Spain and West Germany in consecutive Under-21 finals saw him appointed as English football’s first technical director in 1984.

The next winner with Chelsea links had a much shorter time at Stamford Bridge, making just 10 appearances on loan in the 2000/01 season, but like Sexton, Christian Panucci was a champion at this age group in successive tournaments, although the defender did so as a player.

He helped Italy beat Portugal courtesy of a golden goal in 1994 and was let off the hook two years later, as they beat Spain in a final shoot-out despite Panucci missing the opening penalty.

One European Under-21 Championship winner whose Chelsea credentials are in no doubt is Petr Cech, who won pretty much every trophy going during his 11 years as a Blues player.

However, two years before moving to the Bridge, the goalkeeper was already getting used to lifting silverware as he helped the Czech Republic to an unlikely victory over France in the 2002 final in Switzerland.

Having lost the previous final, there was no doubt who made the difference in 2002 as Cech received rave reviews for his performance in the 0-0 draw, before saving twice in the decisive shoot-out. Doesn’t that sound familiar.

In the words of beaten France manager Raymond Domenech: ‘They had a great goalkeeper, great not only in size but also in the way he played, and that made the difference.’

With the exception of unused substitute Marko Marin lifting the trophy with Germany in 2009, thanks to a 4-0 win over Michael Mancienne’s England, all the winners with Chelsea links since then have been Spanish, as that country swept up seemingly every international trophy around at the start of the 2010s.

First Cesar Azpilicueta and Juan Mata were part of the experienced Spain squad which strolled to victory in 2011, perhaps not surprising considering Mata was also part of their senior World Cup-winning squad the previous summer, and then Alvaro Morata helped them beat Italy in the final two years later, despite former Chelsea striker Fabio Borini getting on the scoresheet for the losers.

Other appearances in the final have ended in disappointment, most recently Kepa Arrizabalaga being unlucky to finish on the losing side after a good performance as Germany beat Spain 1-0 two years ago.

However, spare a thought for the misfortune of Branislav Ivanovic, who first suffered a 3-0 defeat as a teenager to Italy in the 2004 final with Serbia and Montenegro, who were already down to nine men when Ivanovic was sent off in the last minute of injury time. He then returned for a second crack at the final as captain of Serbia three years later, but again ended up a man down as they were beaten 4-1 by hosts the Netherlands.

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