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U21 England v Norway Preview

One thing is clear after the opening round of the Under-21 Championships in Israel. There are four teams good enough to go on and win the tournament – and England are not one of them.

Not this England team anyway. Stuart Pearce talked up the players available to him in the build-up to these finals and they were actually third favourites before a ball was kicked. But any illusions that we had a side capable of knocking down the likes of Spain, Germany, The Netherlands and Italy were shattered when the Azzurrini gave them a football lesson in Tel Aviv last Wednesday.

It was only 1-0 and England had two goals disallowed (one without good reason), but in truth the scoreline flattered England, who, just like the senior side, found that hard work and good organisation alone just isn’t enough against the best teams. The England boss himself was honest enough to admit that the only positive to come out of the game was that they conceded only one goal.

Coral have pushed England out to 12/1 (from 11/2) to win the tournament and 11/2 to win Group A behind 2/7 favourites Italy (now just 3/1 to go all the way) and they would be at a bigger price still if they had to qualify from this position from the tougher Group B.

Pearce is bemoaning England’s general attitude to these Championships and makes the valid point that not only does leaving out many of our best players for this championship severely reduce their chance of making a serious mark, it also deprives those youngsters of invaluable tournament experience before they step up to the senior squad.

The England Under-21 team that might have been, featuring Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Jack Wilshire, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Danny Welbeck, would give any team here a good game, but instead England are fielding a pretty ordinary side that struggled against a classy Italian outfit and will struggle again against Spain, the Germans or the Dutch later in the tournament.

And that’s if they qualify – not a given by any means, even allowing for the good news that Wilfried Zaha, Danny Rose and Thomas Ince could be coming in.

Norway, who beat France to make these Finals and who would surely have accounted for hosts Israel in their opener on Wednesday had they not been forced to play the entire second half with ten men, are a decent side and will be strengthened for tomorrow’s clash by the return of four players currently on World Cup duty with the senior squad.

So though the heart may say an England win, the head suspects a different outcome. Coral go 4/1 and that makes plenty of appeal, as does 16/1 a 2-1 scoreline.