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England’s dominant Young Lions to tackle Croatia in play-offs

England Under-21s, who are odds-on 1/2 favourites to beat their Croatian counterparts (9/2) in the first leg, go into this Euro 2015 qualifying play-off at Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Molineux ground in scintillating form.

The Young Lions managed to win nine out of 10 of their group stage games, scoring 31 times and conceding just twice, to finish 12 points ahead of second-placed Finland. As a result, they are 12/5 chances to stick to their average and net three goals or more again, and 2/1 to get a victory to nil.

Gareth Southgate’s main man in his side has been West Bromwich Albion’s new star striker Saido Berahino, who had been tipped for a senior call-up this international break, but has instead been needed more for the youth team.

Burundi-born Berahino netted nine goals from his eight Group 1 games, which puts him second-equal on the all-time England Under-21 list. Only Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers have scored more than him at this level.

So back the 21-year-old, who has also netted six times in nine matches in all competitions for the Baggies this term, odds-on at 10/11 to get a goal anytime, or a more enticing 7/2 to strike first. It seems that when Berahino scores, he likes to do it two at a time, as he has twice this season in the Premier League and three times in Euro Under-21s qualifying. He is, therefore, a tempting 4/1 to bag a brace or better once more.

Harry Kane is another in form for both club and country recently. For the Young Lions, the Spurs striker netted five in his last four games, and has three in four Europa League matches this term. Back Kane at evens to net anytime, and 5/1 for two or more.

Southgate knows that Croatia will provide tougher opposition than the likes of others in Group 1 Moldova, Wales, Lithuania and San Marino, as the Eastern Europeans also finish top of their pool.

Ahead of the match at Molineux, where 20k fans are expected to turn up, the Under-21 boss said: “This is a step up from the group but it is a step they can make. It is a game they have the ability to win.

“Across the 180 minutes, not everything will go for us I’m sure, so how we react to those little moments in the games will be key.

“But in terms of the professionalism and the attitude, I have no concerns about the players at all.”

The likes of Jack Butland, Luke Shaw, Eric Dier, Tom Carroll, Will Hughes and Tom Ince are also all expected to turn out for the Young Lions in a promising-looking side. Arsenal right back Carl Jenkinson, though, has had to pull out due to a hamstring injury.

In the battle to reach the Euro 2015 finals in the Czech Republic, the six other play-off games are as follows: Slovakia v Italy, France v Sweden, Denmark v Iceland, Netherlands v Portugal, Ukraine v Germany, Serbia v Spain.