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The most powerful American in world soccer

ESPN FC & Howler
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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain: Who is best at breeding success?

England have won their first major trophy since 1966, after Dominic Calvert-Lewin scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Venezuela.

England's victory in the Under-20 World Cup final on Sunday was their first competitive triumph since 1966, and brings hope that the national team finally has a group of young stars that can replicate that success at senior level.

There is a long way to go before England gains parity with Europe's other major football nations in terms of trophies won -- at any level. France, Germany, Italy and Spain have all shown at varying times how success at youth level can be transferred into European Championship and World Cup glory.

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Here, ESPN FC's correspondents analyse their own country's record at each of FIFA and UEFA's international tournaments.

Note: The UEFA U19 European Championship records include previous incarnation as a U18 tournament

Mesut Ozil and Jack Rodwell's careers have taken different paths since they met in the 2009 U21 Euros.

ENGLAND

England's failure to translate modest success at youth level to the senior team is best demonstrated by the fates of the promising squad that lost the 2009 Under-21 European Championship final to Germany.

While five of Germany's squad went on to start their 2014 World Cup final win, England's graduates are mainly examples of unfulfilled potential. Theo Walcott, Jack Rodwell, Micah Richards and Kieran Gibbs all failed to meet early expectations.

The nation's introspection about the repeated failure to perform at major tournaments since their 1966 World Cup triumph on home soil is more or less a fixed mindset, and there have been several in-depth inquests into England's failures. The most high-profile was the Football Association (FA) Commission established by the governing body's former chairman Greg Dyke following the disastrous 2014 World Cup campaign, when England failed to qualify from the group in Brazil.

The commission identified four problems: a lack of quality coaching, an absence of quality facilities at grassroots level, a lack of opportunities for home grown players to play competitive first team football between the ages of 18 and 21, and too many non-homegrown players in English football. While some of their proposals -- including significant investment in 3G pitches at grassroots level -- may yet bear fruit, much of the commission's early momentum was lost amid in-fighting.

This summer's success at the Toulon Tournament and in the U20 World Cup in South Korea indicate that English youth football is strong but the senior team continues to disappoint. -- Dan Kilpatrick

England's win at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup was their first tournament win since 1966.
England's win at the 2017 Under-20 World Cup was their first tournament win since 1966.

FRANCE

There is a contradiction at the heart of French football: the seemingly non-stop production of high-quality young players contrasts sharply with a haul of silverware that should be so much bigger. This summer's U21 Euros in Poland will happen without France, the sixth successive final tournament in that age category Les Bleuets have missed.

Great generations appear cyclically, and after those of which Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane were emblematic, perhaps Paul Pogba will be the iconic player of a new golden era. The Manchester United midfielder was part of the 2013 U20 World Cup-winning side that also featured Barcelona's Lucas Digne and Marseille's Florian Thauvin, while France's U17s and U19s have both won their respective European titles in the last two years.

Add to that the phenomenon that is Monaco striker Kylian Mbappe, and the future looks bright. The only worry is the outlook has been like that so many times before. -- Ian Holyman

France were both European and world champions at the turn of the century thanks to their youth system.
France were both European and world champions at the turn of the century thanks to their youth system.

GERMANY

Following Germany's slump in the early 2000s, a new youth set-up including academies at every club meant the youth teams soon made progress again. In early 2006, the German Football Federation (DFB) appointed Matthias Sammer as the association's sporting director. The former Ballon d'Or's winning mentality played a vital role in the new system, as he believed that titles at youth levels would help the senior team to finally lift the World Cup again.

And so it happened: In 2009, the 'Golden Generation' won the U21 European Championships and five years later six players from that team formed the core of the 2014 World Cup-winning side under Joachim Low. In total, 11 players of the 2014 side reached at least a semifinal at youth level.

Back in Rio de Janeiro 2014, eight Germany stars featuring in the final -- including Mario Gotze, the scorer of the winner in the final and a 2009 U17 Euro winner -- had gathered experience in the final stages of a youth tournament. -- Stephan Uersfeld

The former East Germany's achievements are denoted with an asterisk.
The former East Germany's achievements are denoted with an asterisk.

ITALY

Italy have had great success at U21 level, winning the title a record five times, although converting that into success at senior level only really succeeded once -- in 2006 -- when five members of Claudio Gentile's 2004 champions also triumphed under Marcello Lippi two years later.

That is largely because Italy is a nation which, arguably up until the arrival of Giampiero Ventura as coach last year, has tended to rely more on experience in major competitions, blooding younger players only in intervening years.

The class of 1977 will go down as one of the greatest in Italian football with the likes of Buffon, Totti, Pirlo and Gattuso celebrating also at U18 level in 1995 - and that was one of the few year groups to have been successful throughout the youth levels, with only intermittent success for the Azzurrini in youth tournaments, confirming the trend of Italian players improving with age and not necessarily catching the eye before hitting 20, also due to limited opportunities for young players in Serie A. -- Ben Gladwell

Italy have won the Under-21 European Championship more than any other nation.
Italy have won the Under-21 European Championship more than any other nation.

SPAIN

The taste of success at youth level helped Spain's senior team herald a golden era, which included the country's sole World Cup triumph in 2010. Fourteen members of Vicente del Bosque's squad in South Africa had won trophies with Spain's youth teams, including key players Andres Iniesta and Fernando Torres.

The pair had shone for Spain at the U16 Euros in 2001 and the U19 equivalent a year later. Voted the best player of both youth tournaments, Torres several years later scored the only goal in the Euro 2008 final victory over Germany. In 2010, Iniesta struck the crucial goal against Netherlands in extra time as Spain won the World Cup.

Both players also starred in 2012 as Spain successfully defended their European Championship. A new era of success beckons for Spain with the country having just one month ago won the U17 European Championship title for a record ninth time -- beating England in the final. -- Adriana Garcia

Spain won three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012.
Spain won three consecutive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012.

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