European Under 21 Championships: Italy primed for third tournament win of the century

Aidy Boothroyd's charges are unlikely to follow up the World Cup success of their under 20 counterparts
Aidy Boothroyd's charges are unlikely to follow up the World Cup success of their under 20 counterparts

Europe's top young players will get the chance to show what they can do on the big stage this summer during the European Under-21 Championship in Poland. Mark O'Haire will be previewing every match but first takes a look at the tournament outright betting...

"Luigi Di Biagio's youngsters finished ahead of the underrated Serbia in qualifying and have the X-Factor in Bernardeschi - a member of Italy's Euro 2016 roster last summer - going forward to warrant a worthy outright punt."

2017 UEFA European Under-21 Championship
Friday June 16 - Friday June 30
Live on Sky Sports

AC Milan's Gianluigi Donnarumma, Atlético Madrid's Saul Niguez and Bayern Munich's Renato Sanches are just some of the star names on show in the latest edition of UEFA's Under-21 Championship this summer from Poland.

Spain, Italy, Portugal and England have all named strong squads in the battle for silverware in a competition that's been expanded to comprise of 12 nations split into three groups of four teams. Only the group winners are guaranteed passage to the semi-finals along with the single best runner-up.

Footballing powerhouses Spain, Netherlands and Italy have dominated the tournament this century, taking two titles each with Germany, Czech Republic and Sweden dotting up once apiece. But due to the quick turnover of players, past performances aren't a reliable indicator at this age group.

Germany and Spain's weaknesses should not be ignored

Germany and Spain are the two clear favourites in the betting but both are pitted in tough pools and best left alone at the odds on offer.

Germany 3.7011/4 - winners in 2009- qualified with a perfect record of 10 wins from 10 but there's little correlation between how easily a side negotiated the qualifying stage and how they subsequently fared in the finals.

Whilst Stefan Kuntz's charges are packed with undoubted quality throughout the ranks, the Germans have been pitted in a difficult group alongside Italy, Denmark and Czech Republic and have also been hit by key players being called up for senior duty, or absent through injury.

Die Mannschaft boss Joachim Low has selected an experimental squad for this summer's Confederations Cup meaning the likes of Leon Goretzka, Niklas Sule, Julian Brandt, Leroy Sane and Timo Werner are unavailable.

Spain 4.407/2 are hoping to be crowned European champions at this level for the third time since 2011 and La Roja's squad includes seven players with senior experience and comprises of a supremely talented midfield featuring Saul Niguez, Denis Suarez and Marco Asensio.

Albert Celades' side are certainly a force to be reckoned with but the Spaniards must negotiate talented Iberian rivals Portugal in Group B, as well as handy underdogs Serbia and underrated Macedonia. They'll go close but I'm not in a rush to support La Roja at the available quotes.

Euro 2016 winner Renato Sanches will carry Portugal's 7.4013/2 hopes but with the nation also involved in Confederations Cup duty, Rui Jorge is without A-listers Bernardo Silva, Andre Silva and Gelson Martins.

The Esperanças' were the best side on show two years ago despite losing in the final on penalties and clearly have tremendous strength in-depth. But in an uber-competitive pool, I'm happy to swerve Portugal.

Experienced internationals give Italy an edge

Italy 6.25/1 are the tournament's most successful nation having claimed five previous titles but look well set for a serious tilt at top honours for the first time since 2004. The Azzurrini have named an impressive squad with six players boasting full international experience.

Gianluigi Donnarumma, Simone Scuffet, Federico Bernardeschi, Federico Berardi, Andrea Conti and Lorenzo Pellegrini are all joining up after being part of Italy's senior squad for Sunday's World Cup qualifier against Liechtenstein and with Donnarumma keeping goal behind a defence featuring full internationals Daniele Rugani and Mattia Caldara, the Azzurrini are a solid play.

Luigi Di Biagio's youngsters finished ahead of the underrated Serbia in qualifying and have the X-Factor in Bernardeschi - a member of Italy's Euro 2016 roster last summer - going forward to warrant a worthy outright punt.

Pre-tournament favourites Germany appear the main danger in Group C and top spot seems likely to be decided by the final round of fixtures in Krakow between the two continental heavyweights. I'd back the Italians against an understrength German outfit.

Champs Sweden could surprise England

England 9.6017/2 are looking for more underage success this summer having qualified for the competition without defeat under Aidy Boothroyd's guidance. The Young Lions haven't won the tournament since 1984 but have been boosted by the draw, being placed in arguably the softest section.

Hosts Poland, outsiders Slovakia and defending champions Sweden make up Group A but Boothroyd's boys look a little overrated having returned an unimpressive W1-D2-L6 record across their last three appearances.

England (3) often arrive with the most inexperienced international squad and only Denmark (1) have named a squad with fewer players capped at senior level. What's more, the rigours of the English season have often left the Young Lions jaded coming into the U21 showpiece.

Marcus Rashford's exclusion has left the group light on attacking quality with Tammy Abraham the most obvious line-leader. However, the Chelsea youngster has just completed his first full first-team campaign and Jacob Murphy and Cauley Woodrow, who ended the campaign on loan at Burton, provide uninspiring alternative attacking options.

Sweden 16.0015/1 may have been fortunate to take the 2015 gong but the holders represent a far more attractive proposition in Group A having finished ahead of Spain en-route to the finals.

With Poland and Slovakia far weaker than the big two in Group A, the Swedes should be respected in their quest for back-to-back titles. Outright success might be a step too far for the current crop but odds of 11/4 to take top spot in the pool shouldn't be sniffed at.

Look out for playmaker Niclas Eliasson - the 21-year-old Norrkoeping starlet has already played a part in 11 goals in just 13 Allsvenskan appearances this season, being credited for eight assists.

Recommended Bets
Back Italy to win outright @ 6.25/1
Back Sweden to win Group A @ 11/4

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