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Wednesday, 14 November, 2018

Italy's star-studded squad can claim European glory

Well-backed Azzurrini to land gamble

Italy's Domenico Berardi is a potential star
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Tournament starts 5pm Friday

The European Under-21 Championship has grown in prestige in recent times and it has grown in numbers with 12 teams going to post in Poland hoping to show their nation possess the stars of tomorrow.

Of those dozen, only four appear realistic title candidates and the most successful team in the tournament - five-time winners Italy - look a knocking bet to claim the joy of six.

Italy have been extremely well backed in recent days and double-figure odds are sadly no longer available, but those bookmakers who made an early error have still not gone far enough to rectify that mistake.

As soon as Luigi Di Biagio named his squad it became absolutely clear Italy mean serious business.

Teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma could be Italy's senior custodian for the next 20 years as soon as Gigi Buffon retires, while those in front of the Milan giant should offer supreme protection.

Atalanta full-back Andrea Conti is being coveted by Serie A's giants after helping his club to fourth in Serie A this season, while team-mate Mattia Caldara has already been signed by Juventus, who are also represented by fellow centre-back Daniele Rugani.

Italy's midfield is blessed. Lorenzo Pellegrini is rumoured to be on the verge of joining Roma from Sassuolo, 18-year-old Manuel Locatelli made his breakthrough for Milan, Inter spent a fortune on Roberto Gagliardini from Atalanta and Marco Benassi captains Torino.

And then there is Federico Bernadeschi, the wonderful creative left-footer who Fiorentina are desperate not to sell to Juventus but may have to cave if the champions offer around £35-40 million.

Domenico Berardi is good enough to take on the responsibility of scoring goals. After all, he is Sassuolo's record scorer and could soon be off to Roma, Chelsea or another European elite club such is his obvious quality despite an injury-hit campaign.

Italy don't have an easy draw alongside Germany and only the three group winners (with one best runner-up) will qualify for the semi-finals but Di Biagio's men look the equals of the sectional favourites even though the prices suggest otherwise.

Germany's best youngsters - Niklas Sule, Joshua Kimmich, Leon Goretzka, Julian Brandt and Timo Werner - have gone to the Confederations Cup, while Jonathan Tah is injured.

Several of those who are in Stefan Kuntz's squad have big reputations but players such as Maxi Arnold, Max Meyer and to a lesser extent Mahmoud Dahoud have not trained on quite as much as people were anticipating over this club season.

Serge Gnabry has been brilliant for Werder Bremen to earn a move to Bayern Munich and Max Philipp's fabulous Freiburg form saw him sign for Borussia Dortmund but man for man Italy are at least the equals of Germany.

Some bookmakers still rate Germany tournament favourites which just looks plain wrong and a decent bet on Italy is advised with a saver on Spain, who should be clear market-leaders.

Spanish media have labelled this generation as their dream team and there is a fine collection of players available to Albert Calades.

Hector Bellerin, Gerard Deulofeu, Saul Niguez, Jose Gaya, Denis Suarez, Marco Asensio, Inaki Williams, Sandro Ramirez and Alex Grimaldo are among those who are seen as players with big futures but there is more depth than just the obvious talents.

Jesus Vallejo will return to parent club Real Madrid from Eintracht Frankfurt to replace Pepe such was his impact on loan and Dani Ceballos may soon be joining him at the Bernabeu.

Spain won't have it all their own way in a tough group alongside a Portugal side with Renato Sanches in the ranks while Serbia won the Under-20 World Cup two years ago but Spain look superb. 

England were bitterly disappointing (where have we heard that before?) in 2015. Gareth Southgate's squad included Jack Butland, John Stones and Harry Kane and still did not get out of the group and there is not the same kind of quality this time.

A nice draw with Sweden, Slovakia and Poland gives England a decent chance of reaching the last four but Aidy Boothroyd's side could be out of their depth in the knockout stages.

Recommendations
Italy
3pts 7-1 BetBright
Spain
1pt 7-2 Betfred

Bet on Friday's matches at Soccerbase.com

Then there is Federico Bernadeschi, the wonderful creative left-footer who Fiorentina are desperate not to sell to Juventus
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