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Money In The Blank
U21 Euro Championships – Group Stage
Starts Saturday 5pm – All Group Games live on Sky Sports
If any of the Group Stage matches finishes 0-0, Paddy Power will refund all losing 1st/Last Goalscorer, Correct Score and Scorecast singles on that match. See website for conditions.
The Hypes Of A Nation
There’s a terrible virus sweeping across Europe at the moment.
Forget your Spanish cucumbers, your Dutch bean sprouts and your undercooked German burgers, it’s far worse than that. In recent weeks, young men from England in the prime of their health have cruelly struck down with the dreaded ‘vague end of season knock‘. To the untrained eye it may look like these young men were running around football pitches perfectly well only a couple weeks ago, but clearly beneath the healthy exterior they were nursing horrendous injuries; the only cure for which is not visiting Denmark between precisely the 11th to the 26th June.
Even allowing for the outbreak of non-specific fatigue, England U21s will send a useful squad featuring several established Premier League players to Denmark. As ever with an England team heading into an international tournament, confidence is unfathomably high, but on this occasion it’s a confidence that stems from the erroneous belief that the rest of Europe’s footballing youngsters have been raised by wolves in the wilderness of their respective countries. The secret is a lot of the teams involved in the tournament have spent a lot of time and money in developing their young talent and have managed to do it as well – and perhaps even better – than England.
Case and point will be the opening and indeed crucial game against Spain U21s. Gone are the days when Spanish kids were raised on a diet of immensely talented teams perennially choking on the big stage. This crop of young players are used to watching their senior teams collect major honours and forcefully squeeze Cesc Fabregas into a Barcelona jersey against his will. The academies of La Liga’s clubs are firing out youngsters like a teenage chav who’s just discovered Single Mother’s Allowance and within their ranks they can include players who impressively already own World Cup and Champions League winners medals that they haven’t bought on eBay.
We can’t just manically heap praise on the Spanish indefinitely – that’s a job for the team responsible for marketing Sky Sports’ La Liga coverage. England have some really good emerging talent that’s sure to under perform at senior tournaments for many years to come. If it’s possible, Daniel Sturridge made Chelsea’s £50 million for Fernando Torres look even more ridiculous with a glut of goals for Bolton. Behind him he’s got the efforts of the recently snaffled Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones. Sure they both cost a few million more than you would have paid if it was actually your own money, but it’s not their fault they’re subject to the Invisible Young England Player Tax that must have been introduced in the last few years. All in all, it’s a good squad and if they show that they can handle Spain on Sunday, then thoughts of a rematch in the final aren’t merely the stuff of ridiculous hype often associated with England.
Aside from the issue that the somewhat problematic phrase ‘Stuart Pearce masterminds a team to victory in an international tournament’ needs to come to pass in order for England to succeed, there are also other concerns. The threat of the Spanish stealing the ball and England not seeing it for the first 90 minutes of their tournament looms large, but Pearce’s side have also been drawn in a group with not one, but two of everybody’s favourite stereotypical dark horses. Ukraine will surely replicate the dour ruggedness of their senior team whilst the Czech Republic’s main strength is the fact they’ve managed to amass an Under 21 squad in which only 4 members of the 25 man squad are actually under 21.
It’s a shame some of England’s next generation haven’t made the trip. Nothing prepares you more for handling the boredom of downtime at a senior international tournament than experiencing the boredom of downtime at a youth international tournament. They’ve got the talent to reach latter stages of the tournament and if things fall into place, possibly even upset the pre-tournament favourites. And wondering if you can catch a talented Spain side on an off-day – what better preparation for a future in international football could there be?