Tuesday 27th June, 17:00
Live on Sky Sports
England take on Germany in the semi-final of the U21 European Championship on Tuesday night in Tychy protecting a remarkable record that has seen the nation's assorted youth sides go unbeaten during normal time in 20 competitive matches this year.
The only blemish has been the U17s' defeat by Spain on penalties in last month's European Championship final. The U20 age-group sealed World Cup success and now head coach Aidy Boothroyd has challenged his Young Lions to follow in their footsteps by taking continental glory in Poland.
England appeared a world away from a potential place in the final-four at half-time of their second Group A game. Having already laboured to a 0-0 draw against Sweden, the Young Lions were trailing Slovakia 1-0 following a sluggish opening 45 minutes.
But Boothroyd's boys soon came to life, earning a crucial 2-1 triumph against the Slovaks before cruising to a 3-0 victory in a potentially tricky third and final pool game against hosts Poland.
The Young Lions played without a recognised centre-forward against the Poles and it seemed to suit with Boothroyd's side looking a lot more composed in possession. England were utterly in control at the interval but converted only one chance and suffered a slight wobble after the break before regaining stability.
With neither Nathan Redmond nor Nathaniel Chalobah training with the group on Monday, Boothroyd may have to tinker with his team should either fail late fitness tests. But with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Jacob Murphy pushing for inclusion, it's a convenient conundrum to have.
England 3.25 are unbeaten in 11 competitive matches at this level and although the Young Lions have suffered five semi-final losses in eight appearances, the underdogs have enjoyed an extra two days rest having concluded their Group A campaign on Thursday evening.
Germany 2.44 breezed through their first two games, beating the Czech Republic 2-0 and Denmark 3-0. But Die Mannschaft were below-par when sliding to a 1-0 loss against Italy on Saturday despite bossing the possession stats for a third game running.
Stefan Kuntz was disappointed with his side's display; Germany named an unchanged line-up despite knowing a defeat was likely to still see them progress as the best second-placed side. Having fallen behind early on, Die Mannschaft managed a sole effort on-target against a disciplined Italian defence.
The loss brought about an end to Germany's 12-match winning streak in meaningful matches at this age-group. The pre-match favourites qualified for the competition with a 100% record but six of their best players from that campaign - Leroy Sane, Joshua Kimmich, Timo Werner, Julian Brandt, Leon Goretzka and Niklas Sule) are either injured or with the Confederations Cup squad.
Not that Germany should be written off here. They've claimed 16 victories in 19 and apart from that poor performance against Italy, have appeared one of the more efficient, slicker sides in the tournament.
Serge Gnabry's pace, perceptive movement and artful passing has caused opposition defences many a problem, whilst Mahmoud Dahoud's relentless running from deep, plus Max Meyer and Maximilian Arnold pulling the strings from midfield suggest Kuntz's charges have more than enough artillery to oust England here.
The two teams met in a friendly as recently as March with Germany sealing a 1-0 success. Eight of their starting XI from that game have started every game in Poland this month; the same can be said of 10 of England's 13 players to be involved that day.
With the Match Odds looking about right, it might be worth looking elsewhere for our best bet. Considering the pair have conceded one goal apiece in their three group games thus far, opposing Both Teams To Score seems generous at 2.06 quotes.
Ticking 'No' in the Both Teams To Score column has provided profit in four of England's past five outings, as well as Germany's previous seven fixtures. Collectively, the duo have faced just 17 on-target attempts at an impressive average of 2.83 per-game and only 27 shots from inside their own penalty box (4.50 per-game).
Back Both Teams To Score 'No' 2.06
Italy U21 v Spain U21
Tuesday 27th June, 19:45
Live on Sky Sports
Spain 1.75 were the first side to make it through to the semi-finals and La Rojita were also the only nation to seal a final-four berth having taken maximum points in all three group games. The tournament favourites even picked up a victory against Serbia last time out despite making 11 changes to the team.
Albert Celades opted to rest his entire first-choice XI, knowing the well-fancied Spaniards had already booked their semi-final spot. La Rojita will revert back to their strongest XI on Tuesday evening, a week since they last took to the field in a 3-1 success against Portugal.
Champions in two of the past three editions, no side scored more goals in the pool stage than Spain (9) with Celades' talent-laden group extending their unbeaten record to 12 games at this level (W9-D3-L0).
Seven of the Spanish squad boast senior caps with the roster typically dripping in midfield creativity, technique and vision. Saul Niguez's dynamic, box-to-box efforts have impressed but going forward La Rojita have been nothing short of sensational.
Real Madrid forward Marco Asensio bagged a stunning hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Macedonia whilst Everton-target Sandro Ramirez has shown his pace and power in a goalscoring performance in the success against Portugal.
However, Spain's world class finishing has far out-stripped their expected goals output (5.94) thus far, as well as their average shots from inside the opposition penalty box (8.67 per-game). And La Rojita's shot ratio of 40.86% over their three group games has to be of concern for this Krakow encounter.
Opponents Italy showed great fighting qualities to reach the semi-finals but their 1-0 win over Germany came at a cost with star men Domenico Berardi and Andrea Conti ruled out through suspension. The Azzurrini now face a second pivotal fixture in the space of four days if they're to reach the showpiece final.
Berardi and Conti's absence are undoubted blows to Luigi Di Biagio's men but the Italians will hope the sedate finish to the match against Germany will ensure fitness levels have been kept in check for this tussle.
Head coach Di Biagio was heavily criticised when in charge as the Azzurrini crashed out at the group stage two years ago and plenty of scepticism emerged again following a dreadful 3-1 defeat to the Czechs. But Italy 5.50 have performed when it matters most and do appear a little underrated here.
All three of the groups shipped by the Azzurrini came against the Czechs with Di Biagio's boys reducing their opponents to only five on-target efforts and just 10 shots from inside their own penalty box across four-and-a-half hours of action at the finals.
The five-time winners of the tournament haven't lifted the trophy since 2004 but arrive at their semi-final contest with a sole reverse in 15 competitive matches and a squad packed with experience.
The odds are too heavily weighted in Spain's favour here so it's worth finding an angle to support the Azzurrini. Backing Italy with a +0.5/1 Asian Handicap start at 2.00 should do the trick; this selection would see us paid out should the underdogs take the game to extra-time, or lose just half of our stake should Spain win by exactly one goal in 90 minutes.
Back Italy +0.5 & +1.0 Asian Handicap 2.00
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