England v Italy U21 preview
When England Under-21 manager Stuart Peace claims that Italy are favourites to win Group A, you get the distinct impression that he doesn’t really mean it, such is the faith he has in his squad.
But Italy, who are in fact second favourites to win the group with Coral at 5/4 behind 11/10 England (although narrow favourites on Wednesday), do look the stronger side on paper and certainly have the better pedigree when it comes to this tournament, having won it five times out of seven between 1990 and 2004 – England’s last triumph was almost 30 years ago.
Pearce and his Italian counterpart, Devis Mangia, have both had to put up with losing some of their better players to the senior national team, but the difference is that Mangia has been allowed to include no less than six youngsters who have figured at the top level, three of them more than once.
These include forward Matia Destro, 10/1 joint second favourite behind Spain’s Rodrigo with Coral to end these championships as leading scorer and 11/2 to score first for Italy on Wednesday.
In contrast, while England do have a handful of players capped at senior level, nobody has featured more than once, apart from Jordan Henderson. It is fair to say that England would be a much shorter price to win the tournament than now (11/2 with Coral) had Pearce been able to include the likes of Jack Wilshire, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Phil Jones, although other top countries will have similar stories to tell.
Destro is tempting with Coral at 11/2 to open the scoring for Italy, but the Azzurrini are by no means a one-man strike force; Alberto Paloschio is also rated 10/1 to be top scorer at the tournament (11/2 to score first on Wednesday), while don’t be fooled by Ciro Immobile’s surname – he’s Coral’s 5/1 favourite to net first in Tel Aviv.
Both English and Italian managers and players have been making much of the camaraderie in their camps as they warm up for the crucial game in Group A. These are the two powerhouses in the group and the winner of this fixture should be nailed on to finish top of the table and earn a semi-final place against the runners-up in Group B, although Norway, who beat France in the play-offs, will be no pushovers.
In these circumstances, a cagey draw (9/4 with Coral) might be the most likely outcome. Even a 0-0 (11/2) could be on the cards.