European U21 Championships: Italy to win but will it be enough?

Andrea Pirlo
Andrea Pirlo graced the 2000 edition of this tournament and...won it.

A three-way tie for top spot on points between Italy, Poland and Spain is very possible come Saturday night. Jamie Pacheco talks us through the two matches that can lead to that scenario.

"I still think Belgium can score. They managed to in their first two games and are up against a side with just two clean sheets in their last nine matches, including none in their two games in this competition. Going with the Italy win and goals at both ends at 8/5 makes far more appeal than the horribly short 1/3 on the straight Italy win."

Steady start for the Poles

Spain U21 v Poland U21
Saturday June 22, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Football

Spain were one minute of normal time away from almost certain elimination. A draw against Belgium would have meant the maximum number of points they could have got was four and certainly not enough to finish as the best runners-up.

So they can thank substitute Pablo Fornals, who has just signed for West Ham, for that late goal. Spain were my pre-tournament tip to go all the way and that goal means they now have a great chance.

A win here would mean they definitely go through as long as Italy don't beat Belgium (see below). If both Spain and Italy win, things get complicated because of the head-to-head between the three with goal difference probably coming into play. But let's not worry too much about that now. Spain are focused on winning, Poland on not losing.

At first glance the price on Poland winning is quite frankly, an insult to them. Getting 10/1 about a side with two wins from two matches, including beating hosts and joint-favourites Italy, doesn't seem possible.

That said, their opening day victims, Belgium, have proved to be a pretty ordinary side and the 1-0 win over Italy was a real smash-and-grab job. The hosts had 64% possession, 10 corners to Poland's two and 30 shots to eight. To use that old football cliché, Luigi di Biagio's side did everything but score.

Still, Poland will be full of confidence and if nothing else, will have learned how to frustrate a better, more technical side and will surely bring that to this game.

I wouldn't put anyone off the 10/1 on a third Polish win as Spain roll the dice in search of goals, or the 3/1 on both a Poland win/Draw on the Double Chance market.

But the recommended bet is Poland or Draw at evens on the First Half Double Chance market. In other words, that Poland are ahead or level at half-time.

Spain don't need to go all guns blazing at the start and may just decide that constant possession will eventually wear them down and allow them to strike in the second half when fatigue kicks in. An early blow for Poland before Spain bite back in the second half isn't out of the question, either.

Italy concede but Italy win

Belgium U21 v Italy U21
Saturday June 22, 20:00
Live on Sky Sports Football

The last thing Italy want is a Group Stage exit on home soil. That's also the last thing that tournament Ambassador Andrea Pirlo wants. The former Juventus and Italy midfield maestro won the tournament in 2000 and was also a runner-up in 2002, playing an incredible 46 matches at this level. How this side wished they could have him effortlessly spraying passes all over the shop like a footballing equivalent of a Quarterback. Even at 40.

Strangely, Luigi di Biagio made quite a few changes to the side who beat Spain in their first game. Moises Kean was admittedly a bit quiet in that first game while Nikolo Zaniolo was hooked before the break after receiving an early booking. It will be interesting to see if either of them get recalled here.

As we've said above, the tournament hosts were pretty unfortunate not to get anything at all from that Poland game. They also had a goal disallowed, by the way. Rightly disallowed because the scorer was indeed off-side even though it was by a matter of inches.

I think they'll probably win this against a dispirited Belgium side playing just for pride now. Everyone will have their own opinion on whether sides tend to perform better when the pressure is on or off but this is a game that means a lot to the Italians and if they have their shooting boots on for a change, it could be quite comfortable. Quite whether the win will be enough to go through remains to be seen but they can't be worrying about what happens in the other game.

But I still think Belgium can score. They managed to in their first two games and are up against a side with just two clean sheets in their last nine matches, including none in their two games in this competition.

Going with the Italy win and goals at both ends at 13/8 makes far more appeal than the horribly short 1/3 on the straight Italy win.

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