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European U21 Championship Preview

The claim that Germany is Europe’s emerging dominant football force will be put to some sort of test over the next fortnight when they attempt to wrest the Under-21 title from Spain, the nation they are supposed to be usurping.

They will meet next Sunday at the Netanya Municipal Stadium in Israel in the middle leg of their Group B matches and then, if all goes to form (Coral make Spain 13/8 favourites with Germany second best 9/2), again in the final in Jerusalem on June 18th.

As has been well documented, both countries have set great store by their youth policies in recent years and it has paid big dividends at senior level. The question now is: are they still producing the quality of players to make the top grade and, more immediately, good enough to win this prestigious tournament?

Spain fielded youngsters of the calibre of Juan Mata (predictably, he was voted best player in the tournament) when winning the final two years ago and they are again taking these championships seriously by including five of that successful squad (including Man United’s keeper David de Gea and Barcelona’s midfielder Thiago) along with new faces such as Barca winger Cristian Tello, Malaga’s in-demand Isco and Benfica’s striker Rodriguez, who netted four times against Denmark in the first leg of the finals play-off and who heads Coral’s market for leading tournament goalscorer at 8/1.

The free-scoring Germany, impressive qualifiers for these finals, will provide a stern test, maybe two, but Spain look very strong again and good enough to retain their title.

England, it could be argued, do not take this tournament quite as seriously, instead taking the understandable line that players such as Jack Wilshire, Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are badly needed instead in the senior squad. When we unearth a really talented young player, we don’t have the luxury of allowing him to linger too long in the junior ranks.

But the Three Lions are still sending over a decent squad that includes youngsters of the calibre of Wilfried Zaha, Jordan Henderson and Jack Butland and we can expect them to make a good fist of it (11/2 to win it with Coral).

And the draw has been kind to England, pooling them with Norway, who have very little pedigree at this level, and Israel, who would not have qualified had they not been hosts.

The fourth member of Group A is Italy and once upon a time (they won this tournament five times out of seven between 1990 and 2004) that would have meant curtains for the rest. But Italy are not the force they were at this level and England look a solid 11/10 bet with Coral to win the group and probably set up a semi-final with Germany.