England U21 v Sweden U21, European Under-21 Championship semi-final, June 26, 2009
The Under-21 European Championships in Sweden have been a real joy to watch so far and the organisers have been rewarded with a semi-final tie full of glamour between the hosts and probably the most impressive team at the tournament so far.
Stuart Pearce may have lost three semi-finals on penalties in international tournaments (Italia ’90, Euro ’96, the Under-21 finals in Holland in 2007) but the coach formerly known as “Psycho” must be quietly confident going into this match. (England are 10/11 to win.)
The Young Lions have been in excellent form in Sweden, seeing off Finland with ten men, brushing aside Spain and then earning a creditable draw against Germany with a reserve team.
The ten changes Pearce made for the third group game could well be crucial going into the latter stages of the tournament and England didnâ€™t lose any momentum. Instead, Jack Rodwell (22/1 to score first) has put himself at the front of the queue for a starting berth against the hosts and the team should be fresh should this one go into extra time.
Injury doubts to Theo Walcott and Gabriel Agbonlahor are the only downsides for England and if both are fit the Young Lions will have a great opportunity to go one round further than two years ago. During the first two games, James Milner (11/4 to score) was looking like a real danger man and the Aston Villa winger could be key against a Sweden side packed with talent.
Some of their attacking stars may not have been that well known before this tournament but the likes of Marcus Berg (13/8 to score) and Ola Toivonen are now household names in Sweden and look set for long and fruitful careers at the highest levels of European football.
Marcus Bergâ€™s five goals in the group stages eased Swedenâ€™s passage through and Toivonen is an excellent foil for the Groningen hitman and can also score himself as he proved in successive games against Italy and Serbia.
England will have to be wary that Sweden came out the traps in super fashion against Serbia and had the game won within half-an-hour of kick off. (Sweden are 14/5 to lead at the break.) Whilst the hosts will point to their fervent home support as a possible key factor the fact that they played a virtual quarter final in their last game means the Young Lions may have the edge in terms of fitness.
Fortunately for those watching, this match features some of the finest up-and-coming talent in Europe. Forget the attackers mentioned above, players such as Micah Richards, Kieran Gibbs, Mark Noble, Fabrice Muamba, Mattias Bjarsmyr, Gustav Svensson and Rasmus Elm (7/2 to score) are the future and this should be a fascinating encounter.
Both sides have looked impressive in all their matches so far, even in defeat Sweden looked good against Italy, fitness and big game temperament could sway this semi-final.
The hosts are also without two influential midfielders, Pontus Wernbloom and Emir Bajrami, due to suspension, which makes England slight favourites, but only just.
Full match odds here.