Our football expert Nick Hext is backing Italy and Sweden at the European Under-21 Championship, which starts on Friday.
Recommended bets: European Under-21 Championship
Germany and Spain are the two clear favourites in the betting ahead of the 2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Poland but I want to take on the leading duo.
All three group winners progress automatically and the best of the three runners-up also gets through, that spot is decided by points gained and then, if required, goal difference, goals scored, disciplinary points and coefficient also come into consideration.
That will lead to some fun and games in the tangle to reach the last four and may well produce an advantage for the nations in Group C as they will know the exact permutations when they play their final round of matches.
My outright pick is from Group C but it isn’t favourites Germany.
I like Italy at 8/1 with Boylesports (they are as short as 9/2 elsewhere) and that price makes loads of appeal while you can get it.
The Italians are this tournament’s most successful nation with victory claimed on five occasions (1992, 1994, 1996, 2000 and 2004) but that obviously doesn’t hold much sway when making the selection for this year’s edition.
I am keen on Luigi Di Biagio’s youngsters after they finished ahead of the underrated Serbia in qualifying and their squad is bolstered by a number of players already with full international experience.
Gianluigi Donnarumma, Simone Scuffet, Federico Bernardeschi, Federico Berardi, Andrea Conti and Lorenzo Pellegrini are all joining up with the Under-21 squad after being part of Italy’s senior squad for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein.
Donnarumma is the pick of those names and his stock will rise even more in the coming years. The 18-year-old has incredibly been AC Milan’s first-choice goalkeeper for the last couple of seasons and he has postponed his college exams by a month to play in Poland.
His inclusion is a real boost for Di Biagio and Bernardeschi of Fiorentina is another player to watch out for after being part of Italy’s squad for Euro 2016 last summer.
Group C favourites Germany ended qualifying with a perfect record but they’ve been hit by key players being picked for the Confederations Cup (a tournament we will preview on Wednesday) with senior manager Joachim Low selecting an experimental squad for the tournament in Russia.
Schalke midfielder Leon Goretzka, who has been linked with both Arsenal and Tottenham recently, is one of the names missing from the Under-21 squad and Manchester City’s Leroy Sane is unavailable too - he also misses the Confederations Cup because of injury.
Czech Republic and Denmark are up against it as the other two teams in this quartet and top spot in Group C is more than likely to come down to the match between Italy and Germany in Krakow as part of the final round of fixtures.
As mentioned earlier, the two nations will also know then what’s required to go through as the best runner-up but I reckon Italy have the edge and they are my headline selection for this tournament.
Italy are double Germany’s best price in the outright odds so that further solidifies my interest, especially with Spain and Portugal, the other two obvious contenders, paired together in Group B.
There are star names in both the Spain and Portugal squads. Atletico Madrid forward Saul Niguez takes centre stage in the Spain ranks and Portugal’s Euro 2016 winner Renato Sanches of Bayern Munich is another big name on show.
Spain and Portugal are a best price of 4/1 and 7/1 respectively to lift the trophy but there’s every chance one of them won’t survive the group stage and I’m finding it hard to split the pair.
I’d have to side with Portugal to top Group B if pushed but I think Serbia are an interesting outsider if the favourites fail to sparkle. FYR Macedonia, who finished ahead of France in qualifying, won’t be embarrassed but they are unfortunate to be up against such quality opposition.
My other bet for this tournament comes from Group A as I oppose England.
As is often the case in tournaments, the weakest group is the one that includes the hosts. Poland have home advantage and they are joined by England, Slovakia and defending champions Sweden.
I’m going with Sweden, who won the tournament in 2015 by beating Portugal on penalties in the final, at a very inviting 10/3 with betway to finish above their three pool rivals.
The holders are on offer at 16/1 in the outright odds but I make them outsiders when the step up in class comes in the semi-finals.
Sweden did finish ahead of Spain in qualifying but I reckon 10/3 to finish above sides I don’t rate as highly in Group A is the better way to go with Italy already providing the interest in the outright market.
Winning the previous tournament and then finishing top of a tough qualifying group with an evolving group of players is deserving of respect and that experience of continued success should count again this summer.
England will no doubt take inspiration from their victorious Under-20 World Cup squad but the players taking to the field in Poland will have played much more first-team football than their younger compatriots this season.
The rigours of the English season have left the Three Lions tired in previous editions of this tournament and the likes of Jordan Pickford, Calum Chambers, Alfie Mawson, Nathan Redmond and John Swift all have plenty of miles on the clock in the Premier League and Sky Bet Championship.
I also have a big worry about where the goals will come from. Marcus Rashford isn’t included so all the responsibility is on Tammy Abraham. The Chelsea youngster has just completed his first full first-team campaign while on loan at Bristol City and the majority of his 26 goals came before Christmas.
Abraham has the ability to prove his Premier League potential but there isn’t much back-up in Norwich’s Jacob Murphy and Cauley Woodrow, who ended the campaign on loan at Burton from Fulham.
England should be in the running for the best runners-up spot but Sweden are the pick of the Group A contenders and 10/3 is more than good enough for the defending champions to end up at the summit.
Where to watch on TV: Sky Sports
Posted at 0800 BST on 13/06/17.
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