Italy v Sweden – Ander Stadium, Olomouc at 17:00 live on BT Sport 1
Group B at this year’s U21 European Championship, looks clearly the toughest of the two groups to call with the bookies second, third and fourth favourites for the tournament all chasing the top two qualifying spots, along with outsiders Sweden.
With the Italian’s facing Sweden in the opening match of the group tonight, they will be aiming to pick up maximum points before having to face the more daunting tasks of playing England and Portugal in the next few days.
Italy have won the U21 European Championship five times and come into the tournament with high hopes of progressing to the knockout rounds. They won their qualifying group after winning seven out of their ten matches and scoring 23 goals in the process.
Italy coach, Luigi Di Biagio has perhaps the least experienced squad of all the nations in the competition in terms of senior international experience. None of his 23 man squad have been capped by the senior Italian side yet, but hopes are high that a number of this current squad can make the leap to senior international level soon.
Sweden on the other hand bring eleven players to the Czech Republic who have already been capped at senior level, but perhaps that is more an indication of the lack of talent at senior level than anything else.
Hakan Ericson’s team qualified for the finals by winning Group 7 but they only just held off the challenge of Greece and Poland. They won six of their ten games in the group and although they scored 24 goals, one more than Italy managed, they also conceded 17 which, gives cause for concern when facing the likes of Italy, England and Portugal here this summer.
Italy are justified favourites for tonight’s match and it is hard to see how Sweden can make an impact against the typically solid Italian defence, while at the other end Sweden look likely to concede not matter how they try to stop the Azzurri.
Asian Handicap Betting Recommendation: Italy -0.75 at 2.08
England v Portugal – City Stadium, Uherske Hradiste at 19:45 live on BT Sport 1
The biggest match of the tournament so far completes the first round of group games, as second favourites England take on the talented Portuguese team in a match which could ultimately turn out to be the deciding factor in who tops Group B.
Much has been talked and written about Gareth Southgate’s England squad in the lead up to these championships, with numerous eligible players not picked to represent their country due to their clubs preferring to give their young stars the summer off to recover from a long domestic season.
However, Southgate has still been able to bring a hugely experienced and talented team with him to the Czech Republic. Harry Kane, Saido Berahino, Danny Ings, John Stones, Carl Jenkinson and others have all been regular Premier League starters in the past 12 months.
Unfortunately, injuries to Stones and possibly Berahino as well have thrown Southgate plans into disarray for this tough opening match. Perhaps, he will be secretly regretting not being more demanding of Premier League clubs to let their young players join up with the squad for this important competition.
Portuguese coach Rui Jorge is able to call on an experienced squad of his own, with eight of his youngsters already capped at senior level, they are expected to at least make the semi-finals and will be itching to get off to a good start against a weakened English eleven.
As has always seemed to be the way with Portuguese football, this team is particularly strong in midfield and defence but they lack a quality striker to put the ball in the back of the net. Despite that issue, they cruised through qualifying with ten wins out of ten and in Bernardo Silva, they have a player capable of opening any defence in the tournament.
England are chalked up as favourites tonight but the potential double loss of Stones and Berahino, certainly levels the field somewhat. This looks like it could be a tight and tactical match with chances at a premium, despite the attacking talent on display, as both sides are very strong in defence as well.
The Asian handicap betting line is set at 0 DNB and this could well turn out to be a case of being stuck between a rock and hard place. A draw here is not a bad result for either side with slightly easier tests to come, so we will take the value on offer in the Asian handicap total goals market instead.
Asian Handicap Betting recommendation: Under 2.25 Goals at 2.00
Prices correct at the time of writing.
Join Eastbridge Soccer Betting Broker today!