Five young players to watch in the Euro 2016 playoffs
The identity of the final four participants to qualify for Euro 2016 will be decided over the course of the next week, with the eight remaining hopefuls squaring off in four two-legged playoffs to determine which of them will progress to next summer's European Championship in France.
Here are five young players who will be hoping to make a decisive impact for their respective countries in these ties.
Armin Hodzic | 20 | Striker | Bosnia and Herzegovina
Armin Hodzic has been promoted from Bosnia and Herzegovina's under-21 side for the senior national team's playoff against the Republic of Ireland after scoring 12 goals in all competitions for Dinamo Zagreb so far this season. He was signed by Liverpool as a 16-year-old but never appeared for the first team, and after a slow first year at Dinamo, is now starting to show the scoring touch he previously displayed on loan at Bosnian side Zeljeznicar.
The 20-year-old has been a regular scorer in the national team youth categories and will be hoping for an opportunity to impress at senior level for a side who come into the playoffs having won four of their past five competitive matches. Edin Dzeko and Vedad Ibisevic remain coach Mehmed Bazdarevic's primary options up front, but Hodzic may be called upon to make a decisive contribution off the bench if additional goals become a necessity.
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Jeff Hendrick | 23 | Central Midfielder | Republic of Ireland
Jeff Hendrick represented the Republic of Ireland at every youth level from U-15 upward prior to making his senior national team debut in 2013, and it has been during the Euro 2016 qualifiers that he has established himself as a regular for the Green Army. His seven starts have yielded three assists, including a lovely weaving run to set up Jonathan Walters for the solitary goal in the key victory at home to Georgia in September.
The 23-year-old, who is fast closing in on 200 appearances at club level, is one of four Derby County players to have been called up to Martin O'Neill's squad for the decisive tie with Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ireland's qualifying campaign was largely built upon good organisation and a strong work rate, but in Hendricks they have a midfielder who is also capable of stepping forward and producing the odd incisive contribution in the final third.
Mohamed Elyounoussi | 21 | Forward | Norway
Norway coach Per-Mathias Hogmo has made a point of picking his most in-form players for the playoff tie with Hungary and few are currently in better nick than Mohamed Elyounoussi, who joins up with the squad on the back of goals in each of his past four matches at club level, as well as two in his last three appearances for the under-21s. He was not involved during the group stage of the qualifiers but could yet play a key role in firing Norway to Euro 2016.
The Moroccan-born forward provided strong evidence of his qualities with two impressive performances in Molde's recent back-to-back Europa League victories over Celtic. He had a direct hand in four of the five goals his side scored across the two fixtures, and notched two himself, including a well-executed effort into the corner at Celtic Park. This active and technically adept 21-year-old will now hope to carry that form onto the international stage.
Oscar Hiljemark | 23 | Central Midfielder | Sweden
Oscar Hiljemark captained Sweden to success in the European Under-21 Championship in the summer and will now have an opportunity to contribute to their attempts to reach next year's senior version after receiving a call-up to Erik Hamren's squad for the playoff clash with Denmark. An impressive start to life in Serie A with Palermo and injuries to Albin Ekdal and Pontus Wernbloom have increased his chances of receiving playing time.
The 23-year-old is a determined box-to-box midfielder with a good balance of physical and technical attributes. Injury problems prevented him from establishing any sort of rhythm during his time at PSV Eindhoven, but three goals and one assist in his early months at Palermo suggest that Italy will prove to be a good fit for him. He has long been touted as a future Sweden international, and his time to shine has now arrived.
Pierre Hojbjerg | 20 | Central Midfielder | Denmark
Pierre Hojbjerg has yet to enjoy an extended run of games at club level but is already an important figure in the Denmark side who will face their Nordic neighbours Sweden for a place at Euro 2016. The Bayern Munich midfielder, currently on loan at Schalke, acted as his side's central hub in his seven starts during qualifying, receiving and completing more passes than any other of their midfielders on an average per-match basis.
The 20-year-old is just one of a number of good midfield options available to coach Morten Olsen, and it is possible that his recent lack of playing time in the Bundesliga will count against his chances of starting against Sweden. But if he can show himself to be sharp in training, his ability to link the ball forward from defence to the likes of Christian Eriksen and Michael Krohn-Dehli provides a compelling reason for Olsen to select Hojbjerg in his first XI.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.