The England under-21 ‘long’ squad was reduced yesterday to the European Championship’s permitted 23 players, with Eric Dier, Benik Afobe, Cauley Woodrow and the injured Patrick Bamford failing to make the cut. Those left have joined up for a training camp ahead of a friendly next week before flying out to the Czech Republic for the tournament. The Young Lions are in Group B and will battle against three other sides to make the top two places that ensure progress to the Semi Finals. Here’s who they will be up against…
Head Coach: Rui Jorge
They Play England: 18 June
The Portuguese senior side has been relatively disappointing in recent years but there is much to be excited about in this under-21 team. A 100% win record in qualifying is to be lauded regardless of the opposition – Israel, Norway, Azerbaijan and Macedonia – and five of the players have impressed enough to be capped at senior level since. They include Ivan Cavaleiro, who has scored six in 10 caps for the under-21s, and Monaco hotshot Bernardo Silva, who has five in eight at this level and finished his Ligue 1 season with six goals in seven league games. Porto striker Ricardo Pereira also has six in 14 under-21 caps, which all in all makes for a fearsome Portuguese frontline. The squad includes two players contracted to English clubs in Liverpool’s Tiago Ilori, a centre half who spent the season on loan at Bordeaux, and Manchester City’s Marcos Lopes, an attacking midfielder who has been with Lille this year.
Head Coach: Hakan Ericson
Qualification: W5 D1 L2
They Play England: 21 June
Sweden emerged victorious in a fiercely competitive qualification group both off the pitch – their match in Turkey abandoned after crowd trouble – and on it. Poland were in pole position ahead of the final round of fixtures, and indeed were set to go through with five minutes remaining after Sweden had let a 3-1 lead over Turkey slip to 3-3 inside two minutes and the scores level between Greece and Poland. Two late goals from Greece, though, and an injury time winner from PSV Eindhoven midfielder Oscar Hiljemark – captain of this side, and hugely experienced with 31 caps – ensured Sweden qualified a point ahead of the both the Poles and Greeks. The squad of 23 includes 12 players who have played for the full national team, so it’s safe to say they are at full strength here. Up top, the form of Isaac Kiese Thalin (six caps, six goals), Mikael Ishak (20 caps, 10 goals) and Manchester City’s John Guidetti (17 caps, 9 goals) at this level is certainly impressive. Guidetti [pictured], who had a successful loan spell at Celtic this season, is the only British-based player in this squad although 19 year-old midfielder Kristoffer Olsson was once of Arsenal, playing just a League Cup match in 2013 before departing for FC Midtjylland in January of this year.
Head Coach: Luigi Di Biagio
Qualification: W6 L2
They Play England: 24 June
A 7-1 win over Cyprus secured qualification for Italy in the final round of fixtures, but in truth the 3-2 victory over Serbia, who along with Belgium finished two points behind the Italians – in their previous match will be looked back on as the more significant. The fact there are no players that have been capped at senior level isn’t something to look too much at as several have been called up at least. 13 of the squad have spent the last season on loan from their parent clubs, including three from Juventus and four from Internazionale, but there are plenty of regulars in Serie A. The most familiar names to English football are Watford’s Cristian Battocchio, who spent the season on loan at Virtus Entella and is one of the more experienced players in the 23 with 16 caps, while striker Marcello Trotta (six caps, three goals) joined Serie B side Avellino in January from Fulham after coming through their academy and playing for the likes of Wycombe Wanderers, Brentford – where he famously missed an injury time penalty to deny promotion – and Barnsley on loan. The danger man is Palermo’s Andrea Belotti, who has eight goals in 15 at this level.
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