The European Under-21 Championships get underway in Poland on Friday evening – and Aidy Boothroyd’s England are favourites to take top spot in what looks to be a fiercely competitive field in Group A.
The Three Lions will line up against defending champions Sweden, host nation Poland and dark horses Slovakia – and, with only the top team from each section assured of a place in the final four of the competition, the group stages look certain to throw up plenty of drama.
England last tasted success in this competition back in 1984 but hot on the heels of the Under-20s superb victory at the World Cup in South Korea, Boothroyd’s men will be determined to emulate that success; the Three Lions are chalked up as a 9/1 (10.0) chance with bet365 to secure the silverware, with England the 13/10 (2.30) favourites to take top spot in Group A.
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Sweden, however, will surely provide stiff opposition - Hakan Ericsson’s side were winners in this tournament in Czech Republic two years ago and, having pipped outright favourites Spain to top spot in qualifying for this competition, there is little evidence to suggest that the Scandinavians are in the mood to relinquish their crown without a fight.
The defending champions can be backed at 11/4 (3.75) to beat the Three Lions to the Group A summit and, given the Swedes’ strength at this level, that price could well represent decent value – particularly if Ericsson’s men claim a positive result when the two teams meet in the competition’s curtain-raising fixture on Friday evening.
Poland, too, will be determined to perform well on home turf and Marcin Dorna’s charges are available at 11/4 (3.75) to win Group A. The hosts kick off their campaign against Slovakia on Friday and it is imperative that they take all three points from that fixture if they are to make an impact on this tournament.
Slovakia have qualified for this competition for the first time since 2000, when they reached the semi-final stage, but the draw has certainly not been kind to Pavel Hapal’s charges. Nevertheless, Slovakia will be determined to make the most of their opportunity and, having been beaten in just one of their eight matches in qualification, the Slovaks should not be dismissed lightly.
The 25/1 (26.0) quote for Slovakia to be crowned as champions, however, is indicative of the enormity of the task facing Havel’s men here. Indeed, bet365 go 11/2 (6.50) that Slovakia surge to the summit in Group A.
All eyes will be on Boothroyd’s side, but Sweden will be determined to show that their title triumph two years ago was not fortuitous and Ericsson’s defending champions could offer value for punters at 11/4 (3.75) to top Group A this time around.