Under-21 European Championship Preview – Group A

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Poland

The hosts of this Euro’s Poland are in group A. As hosts the country did not need to qualify, so we do not have statistics that indicate how they performed in this phase of the competition. Earlier this year they recorded 2-1 defeats to both Czech Republic and Italy in friendly games. Looking further back in their history they beat Germany in November 2016 and Montenegro a month earlier. The hosts have not qualified for an international tournament at this level since 1994 and will be looking to improve their record in front of their home fans.

There is obvious talent in the Polish squad. Goalkeeper Bartłomiej Drągowski is highly rated and secured a move to Italian side Fiorentina last summer from Polish side Jagiellonia Bialystok after a season which saw him play 34 times. At 19 he is still young and his chance may not come in this championship in front of his home fans. There are Premier League players also in the squad as Leicester City’s Bartosz Kapustka looks to build on his reputation after getting game time in Euro 2016 with the senior Polish squad. They also have Arsenal defender Krystian Bielik in the squad.

Poland have to be outsiders for qualification in this group. Hopefully the home crowd can get behind them and help them to some good performances.

England

The English team will be full of belief after the under 20 squad won the World Cup a week ago. The FA have decided to put a big focus on the younger versions of the national sides and England have one of the best squads travelling to Poland. They went unbeaten in their qualification group with six wins and two draws. They also finished with a goal difference of 17 – scoring 20 and conceding just three. This squad also have experience. Two players at this tournament (Nathan Redmond and Nathaniel Chalobah) are chasing James Milner’s record for number of appearances for the under 21’s as he was capped 46 times – The pair are on 34 and 36 respectively.

The squad is strong and the quality runs deep for the three lions. The key area for the team has to be their midfield. Skipper James Ward-Prowse has played often for Southampton this season and he is joined by classy operators in Lewis Baker and Will Hughes to offer support in central midfield. Jordan Pickford, the most expensive English goalkeeper after his transfer to Everton, will take his place in goal with defenders like Callum Chambers and Rob Holding in front of him. Going forward England have Nathan Redmond who has scored 9 times for the under 21’s and is four goals behind Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers who hold the record for top scorers for the under 21’s. They also have Tammy Abraham who has had a superb season on loan at Bristol City scoring 23 goals and recording three assists in the Championship. They should have more than enough going forward even with the absence of Marcus Rashford.

Expect England to challenge for the trophy, the team has great chemistry and good quality. They should win the group and claim their place in the semi final’s.

Sweden

The biggest challengers to England in the group will be Sweden. A stellar qualifying campaign saw them claim top spot in Group 6 ahead of Spain by a single point. Group 6 was also occupied by Croatia who finished third highlighting just how well Sweden performed in these games. They confirmed their place in the competition with a 4-2 win at home against Croatia which is a truly excellent result. However, they have struggled in friendlies leading up to the Euro’s having lost twice to Serbia and Denmark. Their only victory since qualifying coming against the Czech Republic. Sweden won the European under 21 Championship in 2015 and will be defending their title this time round.

Sweden have established player in their squad such as Basel’s Alexander Fransson and Swedish based ex Arsenal academy player Kristoffer Olsson who captains the side. They are strong and experienced in midfield so expect a competitive game when England lock horns with them in the competition opener.

Sweden’s squad is experienced and has some good technicians. They will push England the closest at the summit.

Slovakia

Slovakia surprised a few when they topped Group 8 ahead of the Netherlands and Turkey. They went to Holland and beat the Dutch under 21’s 3-1 then they beat them 4-2 at home. They hit Turkey for five without reply when they visited Slovakia and claimed a point when they travelled there. This is a concern for the other sides in the group. Slovakia can beat anyone on their day. After their defeat on match day one against Belarus they went unbeaten through the qualifying campaign.

Albert Rusnák who was part of the Manchester City youth academy from 2010-13 and now plays in the MLS with Real Salt Lake is an established player for the Slovakians. He had loan spells in England with Oldham Athletic and Birmingham City. Stanislav Lobotka plays for FC Nordsjælland and is capped by the Slovakia senior side.

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