European Under 21 Championships: Poland can get the better of Belgium

Serdar Gözübüyük
Serdar Gözübüyük takes charge of Italy U21 v Spain U21

If Poland v Belgium doesn't set the pulses racing, then Italy v Spain certainly should. Jamie Pacheco talks us through the opening day's fixtures.

"The smart money is on Spain avoiding defeat here given that head-to-head record and the fact they seem to have the slightly better squad."

Poland U21 v Belgium U21
Sunday June 16, 14:30
Live on Sky Sports Football

Put yourself in Pole position by opposing the Belgians

Poland are here by virtue of getting the better of Portugal over a two-legged play-off, winning 3-1 at home and losing 1-0 away. They were somewhat unlucky to not having qualified directly, getting a very respectable 22 points in Group 3, where they remained unbeaten with six wins and four draws and finishing just one point behind Denmark.

Belgium on the other hand, won their group, courtesy of eight wins and two draws. The five goals they conceded was bettered only by England in the whole of qualifying, who let in four.

The head-to-head record here isn't going to give us much of a clue as to what might happen here because...there isn't one. You'd have to go back to 2003 for the last time they played each other and that was a friendly, so doesn't count anyway.

Belgium are even-money favourites going into the game but it's hard to see why they're that short. Given this is the first time they've been here since 2007, I guess it was the manner in which they qualified that got the odds-compilers a bit cautious; but it was a pretty easy group they were in with the likes of Malta and Cyprus for company.

Poland, who would surely have learnt from their mistakes from two years ago when they were poor as hosts, did it the hard way. But getting the better of Portugal over two legs is no easy feat. Another indication that they're a tough nut to crack was their recent 1-1 away draw against an excellent England side. A friendly yes, but England fielded a strong team that night.

We've mentioned Belgium's strong defensive record already and it will certainly have to be at its best to keep Polish captain Dawid Kownacki in check. The Sampdoria forward, currently on loan at F Dusselforf, was the top scorer in the whole of the qualifying competition with 11 goals, 10 in the Group Stages and one in that play-off against Portugal.

With Belgium in somewhat unchartered territory after so many years absent from this competition, they may feel the pressure.

More to the point, there doesn't seem to be that much between them, as proven by the fact that going into qualifying they were Ranked 16 and 17 respectively in the UEFA charts.

Keep the draw and the Poland win onside by going with the Poles on the Double Chance market.

Italy U21 v Spain U21
Sunday June 16, 19:00
Live on Sky Sports Football

Spain to concede, Spain to avoid defeat

This is a match that would have been worthy of being at the very least, a mouth-watering semi-final.

Instead, pitted against each other in Group A, it's arguably the most important match of the whole of the Group Stages across all teams. Lose it and qualification becomes extremely hard with only the best runners-up making the semis. Runners-up in other groups could possibly end up with seven points or at least six with a strong goal difference, so avoiding defeat here is definitely the name of the game.

These are the two most successful sides in the tournament's history with Italy (managed by Luigi di Biagio, pictured) having won it five times, though the last one was way back in 2004. Spain have won it on four occasions but been particularly good in recent times, making three of the last four finals and winning two of them.


Dutch referee Serdar Gözübüyük takes charge of this match where Spain are understandably favourites at 31/20. Understandably because they've beaten them in each of the last three times they've played at this level.

Spain, my outright tip, were excellent in qualifying and racked up 31 games in just 10 matches.

The smart money is on Spain avoiding defeat here given that head-to-head record and the fact they seem to have the slightly better squad. But we can go one better than that. Despite bossing most of their group games (such as when they beat Iceland 7-2), they still conceded in six of the 10. Both teams to score would also have paid out in all of the last five games between these two.

A same-game multi with Spain not losing and both teams scoring comes to 2.48.

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