European U21s Championship semi finals preview
Posted 25th June 2009
I previously tipped Italy or Serbia to win the 2009 U21s European Championship and with Serbia, runners-up in 2007, slipping out at the group stage, I must go with Italy as my selection to win their sixth tournament from their last 10 attempts.
Italy face Germany in the second semi final, after England and hosts Sweden have decided the first finalist. England are hot favourites to advance and give themselves a chance of winning a title they have not won since 1984, as well as erasing the memory of the heartbreaking 13-12 semi final defeat against Netherlands two years ago.
Sweden have been the surprise package of the tournament. They had qualified for only five of the previous 16 European U21 events, but have maintained their impressive record at the finals, reaching the last four for the fourth time.
They have relied on the goals of FC Groningen forward Marcus Berg, who has struck five times and will surely finish as leading scorer, joining the likes of Rudi Völler, Davor Suker and Klaas Jan Huntelaar as forwards to have broken through at Euro U21 events.
England have the defence to cope with Berg and should be backed to squeeze through to the final in Malmö with a narrow win in a low-scoring contest and justify their status as tournament favourites.
Like England, Italy and Germany are unbeaten in the tournament and I expect another closely-fought match. The Germans have surprisingly never won this event and if they are to lift the trophy for the first time, they will have to do it the hard way.
Italy have performed with their usual efficiency and poise and in three-goal striker Robert Acquafresca they have one of the tournament's most dangerous forwards. Germany have struggled for goals and could regret a lack of firepower in this one.