England’s Young Lions to excel in UEFA Under-21 Championship Group B
Gareth Southgate’s England Under-21 squad have whipped fans and pundits into quite a frenzy, and expectations are high heading into the UEFA Under-21 European Championship, where the Young Lions are joint-second favourites at 5/1 with Coral to claim the top prize, and with good reason.
Here, we cast an eye over a staunchly competitive pool, including England’s chances in a group crammed with young talent from ambitious countries Italy, Portugal and Sweden.
Unlike their senior counterparts, England boast some serious strength in depth across all positions, especially in the striking department. Despite the recent outcry over a lack of youngsters being given top-flight chances, Southgate can also be proud of a roster bursting with experience, and his spirited side are subsequently a superb price of 15/8 to win their pool.
Of course Spurs sensation Harry Kane, a spectacular 6/1 to be tournament top scorer, is tipped to hog the headlines, having come close to capturing the Premier League Golden Boot in his first full season at White Hart Lane.
England’s leading man will not be able to rest on his laurels, as competition from Burundi-born West Bromwich Albion marksman Saido Berahino, who stormed qualifying to be top scorer with nine strikes, and new Liverpool signing Danny Ings, should provide enough options to keep the ‘Hurri-Kane’ on his toes.
The Young Lions are a match for any team up top, but also boast sheer quality in midfield and their rearguard, despite the absence of left back Luke Shaw, with Everton’s silky centre back John Stones set to command defence.
Italy will be an intriguing opponent for the Young Lions, and are 6/1 to claim the crown or 13/5 to top Group B, having had the measure of England in recent senior meetings.
There is a deeply-ingrained concern that the Azzurrini are not producing talents big enough to fill the shoes of stalwarts such as Andrea Pirlo, but there is promise in this crop, who are odds-on at 10/11 to at least qualify from Pool B.
The Italians’ strengths rather stereotypically lay in defence, where impressive Juventus-owned Empoli centre back Daniele Rugani and Alessio Romagnoli, contracted to Roma, will provide a stern test.
Meanwhile, in attack, Sassuolo loan star Domenico Berardi is one to watch after a superb season in Serie A, yet Palermo poacher Andrea Belotti has a better international record of eight in 15 for the Azzurrini.
Also jostling for space in the spotlight are Portugal (7/4 to win Group B, or 4/9 to qualify), whose ranks are stuffed with highly-rated prodigies that could see the nation prove genuine trophy contenders.
Aside from familiar faces such as Sporting Lisbon midfield shield William Carvalho and majestic Monaco winger Bernardo Silva, there should also be much excitement in watching the likes of Malaga wideman Ricardo Horta and coveted Valencia right back Joao Cancelo strut their stuff on the European stage.
Cancelo’s sidelined Los Che clubmate Andre Gomes could, however, prove a crucial miss in midfield should they reach the latter stages.
Outsiders and underdogs Sweden round off this potentially perilous pool, but are still 3/1 to qualify as, having downed France in the play-offs to make it this far, the Scandinavians clearly thrive with their backs against the wall.
With the character to embrace that underdog status is soon-to-be free agent John Guidetti. Following spells with Celtic and Feyenoord while on Manchester City’s books, the 23-year-old frontman has shown he can change a game, and certainly needs to put himself in the shop window this summer.
Another Swede tipped to shine on the big stage is skipper and midfield enforcer Oscar Hiljemark, fresh from an Eredivisie triumph with Dutch giants PSV, though their strength lies in being a collective rather than outstanding individuals.
Coral’s top betting tip: Kane at 6/1 to be tournament top scorer is sensational value.