Monday, June 15, 2009

England kick off as U21 favourites

UEFA U21 Tournament: England v Finland

Halmstad, Sweden

Domestic interest in the UEFA U21 tournament is higher than usual this year, partly because the National Team is on leave for the summer and partly because there is the sniff of victory from England.

A tasty crop of young Englishmen have made the journey to Sweden including Premier League-honed Gabriel Agbonlahor, Michael Mancienne, James Milner, Micah Richards and Theo Walcott, giving coach Stuart Pearce both hopes and headaches; the Three Lion Cubs have the quality to win the trophy after falling to the Netherlands on penalties at the semi-final last time, but also for the first time in around a quarter of a century England head to a tournament as favourites; there is now expectation and responsibility on Pearce's head that was not there before.

"England to go all the way" blared the headline in Sweden's major newspaper Ekstra Bladet today. EB's soccer guru Erik Niva rated England as his No.1 tip for the tournament, followed by Italy, Spain and then Serbia. Gulp, England, favourites to win something?

Finland, tonight's opponents in Halmstad, Niva rated eighth and last, but the Scandinavians will be buoyed by a horde of blue and white travelling fans: The tournament is almost on home soil and this is the first finals the Finns have ever qualified for.

A beautiful early summer's day by the river, Halmstad, home town of Fredrik Ljungberg, is the sort of city that is never going to pull in the tourists but is close to some gorgeous coastline and is calm and serene enough to make you like it. Finnish fans have been by far the greater in number, but there are the committed England fans who have made the trip, full national team or no.

It must be said England were European U21 Champions twice in the 1980s, but so long ago none of Pearce's squad had even been born. But recent results have included a 5-0 blanking of Norway and a 7-0 thrashing of Azerbaijan. England expect and so does Europe.

Let the games begin.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

Bet with Bet 365

World Soccer News

No comments: