The European under-21 Championship starts next Wednesday 17th June in the Czech Republic, and eight of Europe’s brightest young teams will compete for the bi-annual trophy. England warmed up for the tournament with a 1-0 win over Belarus at Barnsley’s Oakwell Stadium, and for once they go into a international tournament as genuine favourites. Germany, Portugal and Italy are among the other big names in the competition, but there is no place for the likes of France, Spain or Holland.
The under-21’s is a shorter tournament than most, with just two groups of four playing a round robin format. The winners and runners-up in each group progress straight to the semi-finals, and the whole competition will be played out from the 17th to 30th of June. We’ve already recommended backing England to win the trophy and Harry Kane to be the Three Lions’ top scorer, while we’re also keen on Germany, England and the Czech Republic’s chances in each group. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the first round of matches next Wednesday and Thursday, and there are some great odds available a few days in advance.
Wednesday 17th June
Czech Republic v Denmark
The first of our tips is on the opening game between Czech Republic and Denmark, and the hosts are a very tempting price to get off to a winning start. They are worth a small investment on home soil to overcome the Danes, who topped one of the easier groups in qualification. The Danes have an array of young talent at their disposal, and although they are outsiders for the competition, they could make an impression. This will be a competitive curtain-raiser to the tournament, but with home advantage the Czech’s might just edge it.
Czech Republic qualified automatically as hosts, so have been restricted to friendlies, but they’ve won the last three, twice beating Ukraine and notching a somewhat fortunate 1-0 win over Portugal. A lack of strength-in-depth has led to the inclusion of four players who had previously been fast-tracked to the full Czech Squad. Those players should raise the quality of the team, and the less experienced squad members should stand to benefit from that. On paper, Denmark may have slightly the better potential in their ranks, but in a tournament opener it generally pays to side with the hosts, and at the prices, the Czech’s are worth a dabble.
Germany v Serbia
Germany are a much shorter price to win their tie with Serbia, but it’s hard to see any other result. It’s true that Serbia knocked out the current holders, Spain, in the play-offs for these finals, but Germany are the outright tournament favourites, and boast a wealth of talent. They qualified with relative ease, and will be expected to get off to a winning start in this match. Despite that great win over Spain, Serbia have suffered defeats against Sweden, Italy and Israel in recent games, and they remain a little inconsistent.
Thursday 18th June
Italy v Sweden
One would expect all of these prices to get gradually shorter as the tournament approaches, so it’s worth taking the best odds now to eke out that little bit more value. Italy are worth backing at close to evens to get the better of Sweden, although one would be reluctant if they were very much shorter. Sweden have been on a great run of form lately which has seen them win 11 of their last 14 games, with the only defeat coming against France. They topped a tricky group in qualification which included Poland, Turkey and Greece, before knocking out France in the play-offs over two legs.
The Swedes represent a danger to all in the group, but Italy are taken to have a little more class in their ranks. They have selected the best squad available, and all of their top youngsters will have the chance to display their skills. Italy have beaten Sweden on the last four occasions they’ve met, and although none of the current squads will have competed in those games, it gives an indication of the relative footballing strength of these two countries.
England v Portugal
The last of the first round matches is arguably the most mouth-watering, as England and Portugal take each other on after recording near faultless qualifying campaigns. These are the second and third favourites, and this match could also go a long way towards deciding who eventually finishes top of the group.
England won 9 of 10 qualifying games (drew the other one) scoring 31 goals and conceding just 2. Portugal recorded a 100% record, winning all eight matches in their group, scoring 22 goals and conceding 6.
Gareth Southgate’s England have won 15 of his 17 matches in charge, and are demonstrating a level of consistency the full national team can only dream of. They have plenty of Premier League experience in their ranks, including the likes of Harry Kane and Danny Ings, and are fancied to have a good competition. The two sides actually met in a friendly as recently as November, when England ran out 3-1 winners with a brace from Danny Ings, and another from Carl Jenkinson.
Portugal have a very good squad of talented youngsters, and they will also fancy themselves to do very well in this year’s tournament. However, since that England defeat they’ve drawn 0-0 with Denmark and lost 1-0 to Czech Republic, so they aren’t coming into the competition in good form. By contrast, England’s 1-0 win over Belarus sends them to the Czech Republic full of confidence, and considering they beat the Portuguese so recently, they stand out at a very good price to win this match.
European under-21 Matches:
Wednesday 17th June
Thursday 18th June
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