Serbia v Sweden & Belarus v Italy, June 23, 2009
With the tournament involving just two groups and a semi-final stage, it is fair to say that the clash between Serbia and Sweden will be the only quarter-final of the Under-21 Championship.
Hosts Sweden undoubtedly have the upper hand since they can draw (11/5) to progress and there must be major doubts that Serbia can score having failed to claim even one goal in 180 minutes of football so far (Serbia are 6/4 not to score), nevertheless this match has all the makings of a classic.
Sweden were imperious in their rout of Belarus with Marcus Berg (11/8 to score) coming to the fore and although they lost to Italy in the second game, the host nation were far from outclassed as was shown by the man of the match award going to Azzurrini keeper Anrea Consigli.
The joint managerial partnership of Jorgen Lennartson and Tommy Sodeberg will be relatively confident that the Swedish attack of Berg and Ola Toivonen (2/1 to score) has what it takes to score against the Serbs. Rasmus Elm has added to his burgeoning reputation in the two games so far and with the 12th man of the home support, the smart money should be on the hosts.
But, Serbia have what it takes to cause an upset with some undoubted talent in their side. They proved their defensive resilience against Italy in the opener but were strangled by Belarus in the second game.
Unlike Belarus, who placed ten men behind the ball, Sweden will not sit back which should allow the likes of Zoran Tosic (11/1 to score first) and Miralem Sulejmani (7/4 to score) to get in behind. After two games however, the finishing prowess of Tosic and Sulejmani still remains in doubt and the role of Gojko Kacar says much about this Serbian side.
The Hertha Berlin midfielder plays his club football in a defensive midfield role but for the Under-21 team plays further forward and Serbia really need to find goals from somewhere. Nevertheless, with a tight defence, if Serbia can keep it tight for the first half-an-hour, the home side might get edgy and anything is possible.
The other game in Group A looks like a foregone conclusion even though Belarus can still qualify for the semis. Even without the suspended Mario Balotelli, Pierluigi Casiraghiâ€™s side should have way too much for Belarus and another big score could be on the cards. (Italy are 1/3 to win.)
Sebastian Giovinco (11/8 to score) was imperious against the Swedes and the â€œAtomic Antâ€ may be given an even more advanced role without Balotelli. Robert Acquafresca is a good bet to score (5/6) and Alberto Paloschi (10/11 to score), dubbed the â€œnew Pippo Inzaghi,â€ could also get in on the act.
The Azzurini should win comfortably to ensure they finish top in the group and secure an easier semi-final match up. Belarus should be congratulated for going into the final game with a chance of progression, unlike Finland in Group B, but they will need something special from Leonid Kovel or Sergei Krivets (who scored for BATE Borisov in the Champions League last season) to secure a massive upset.
Full Serbia-Sweden odds here.
Full Belarus-Italy odds here.