Betting Preview: UEFA U-21 Championships
The 19th European U-21 Championships begin in Israel on Wednesday, as Spain look to defend their 2011 title in the eight team tournament.
England have been favourably drawn in Group A against Norway, Italy and hosts Israel and are 5/4 to progress. The Young Lions, seeking a third U-21 championship, have the benefit of having the experience of Stuart Pearce at the helm, after coming so close to U-21 success previously having reached the semis in 2007 and losing to Germany in the 2009 final.
England couldn't be better prepared going into the tournament having won their last 9 matches scoring 22 goals in the process and without conceding a single goal, so it's no surprise that Pearce is confident of doing well: "I now know full well what is the right thing to do as I've seen the results of getting the balance between rest and focus." Of his 23-man squad, only 5 players lack Premier League experience but will be without Liverpool's Raheem Sterling and Wigan's Callum McManaman and are sweating on the fitness of Man United's £15m signing Wilfried Zaha.
If Zaha can shake of his injury problems, England stand a great chance of reaching the semi-finals after his Championship Play-off Final heroics with Crystal Palace and at 11/2 to win the tournament seems good value, especially if they can avoid the early threat of Italy who boast the likes of Marco Verratti of PSG in their squad.
Unsurprisingly, Spain are the pre-tournament favourites at 7/4 after beating Switzerland in the 2011 final in Denmark but are placed in the toughest of the two groups against the Netherlands, Russia and 2009 winners Germany. As they did two years ago, La Rojita have an impressive squad to choose from, with Man United and Premier League Team of the Year goalkeeper David de Gea between the sticks, full internationals Iker Muniain of Athletic Bilbao, Isco of Malaga and Thiago Alacantra of Barcelona. Up top they have the cousin of Barcelona's Thiago, Rodrigo after a successful season with Benfica and he's the tournament's favourite for top goalscorer at 7/1 after topping the goalscoring charts in the qualifying campaign.
The Netherlands are also expected to do well at 5/1 and like England, are chasing a third U-21 title with PSV's midfield general Kevin Strootman and Borussia Monchengladbach's Luuk de Jong the pick of their squad. Germany at 7/2 will also be looking to win the title for the second time in four years and continue good recent-form by a German side.
History suggests that this tournament often acts as a stepping stone for future success for a player's career with Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Luis Figo, Petr Cech and Juan Mata all taking part in this tournament previously, so there's no doubt that this year we are again sure to witness the next set of young hopefuls and there's no place better to be than the HOME of betting!