Italy U21 v Germany U21, European Under-21 Championship semi-final, June 26, 2009
A repeat of the World Cup semi-final in 2006, and both sides will be full of confidence that they can go all the way. Incredibly, these two sides have never met in a competitive Under-21 fixture, nevertheless both sides will be familiar with each others set-up as a host of well known talent meets on the field.
Pierluigi Casiraghi will be able to call upon his feared front-three on Friday night with Mario Balotelli (2/1 to score) back from suspension after his sending off against Sweden. Whilst the Inter Milan striker showed the double-sided nature of his personality with a sublime goal and subsequent red card in the second group game, Sebastian Giovinco and Robert Acquafresca look like the real deal.
The performances of Giovinco (15/2 to score first) in Sweden so far give reason to question why Claudio Ranieri was so reticent to play the â€œAtomic Antâ€ more often at Juve last season. The diminutive playmaker is the natural heir to Alessandro Del Piero for both club and country and is one of the most exciting talents on the continent.
Similarly, Acquafresca (6/4 to score), who seems set for another loan move from Inter Milan next season, perhaps to Atalanta, appears to be a target man of real class. He has now scored three goals in the tournament and is realistically the only danger to Swedenâ€™s Marcus Berg in the race to be top goal scorer.
This semi-final is also a major match for many of the Azzurrini team. After Italyâ€™s senior national team was knocked out the Confederations Cup, Marcelo Lippi was quick to dismiss the emerging talent coming through. Lippi told the Italian journos: “This is it guys, this is the best weâ€™ve got. So donâ€™t ask me about bringing in other youngsters or this player or that player. Because the fact of the matter is that this is as good as it gets.â€
But, on the evidence of this tournament the likes of Buffon, Cannavaro and Pirlo may be replaceable in the short to long term. Andrea Consigli looks like a keeper of real promise (Italy are 5/4 to keep a clean sheet), whilst the likes of Marco Motta, Paolo De Ceglie (injured and out of the squad) and Luca Cigarini could all force their way into Lippiâ€™s plans for the 2010 World Cup.
Germany Under-21 coach Horst Hrubesch is also not short of talent to call upon. In particular Mesut Ozil (12/5 to score) has continued his excellent club form for Werder Bremen to establish himself as one of the most highly-talented young playmakers in European football. Such have been his performances in Sweden that one can understand why Bremen allowed Brazilian schemer Diego to leave for Juventus.
The standard of goalkeeping has also been good at this tournament and although Spainâ€™s Sergio Asenjo produced some excellent performances, Germanyâ€™s Manuel Neuer appears to be a custodian with a bright future. (Germany are 15/8 to keep a clean sheet.)
Whilst a host of German players such as Benedikt Howedes, Jerome Boateng, Marko Marin and Ashkan Dejagah (15/2 to be the first scorer) have also established themselves as future stars of the national team, it is questionable whether Hrubeschâ€™s side have the attacking talent to compare to their opponents.
Germany could make history if they go all the way in this tournament to add to their Under-17 and Under-19 crowns but they will have to improve on their performances in the group stages. They struggled at times against Spain and England and only a fine two-minute spell against Finland saw them claim their only victory so far.
However, German teams have been written off before at international tournaments and at this late stage it could be all about temperament. The Azzurrini should have too much for their opponents (Italy are 5/4 to win) but maturity and professionalism is the order of the day.
Full match odds here.