Betting Preview: Italy v Serbia (European Under-21 Championships)

Italy v Serbia, European Under-21 Championships, June 16, 2009

Prior to the tournament, England Under-21 manager Stuart Pearce identified Italy and Serbia as two of the best teams in Sweden, and on Tuesday they go head-to-head on the second day of the tournament. With hosts Sweden facing Belarus in the other Group A game, this game is massive for both sides who will be aiming to get off to a good start.

Italy undoubtedly have the best attacking talent on paper of all eight teams in the competition (Italy are 3/1 to win the Euros), and it is somehow fitting that they are managed by former Lazio striker Pierluigi Casiraghi, whose main worry will be how to fit all the talent into a formidable functioning threat.

Leading the charge is Mario Balotelli, who will be the main target man for the Azzurrini, the 18-year-old scored nine goals for Inter Milan last season and can score from anywhere. Fellow Inter Milan team mate Robert Acquafresca (6/4 to score) will also provide a physical presence up front after scoring 14 goals on loan at Cagliari last season.

The creative spark comes from Sebastian Giovinco – the “Atomic Ant” has all the ability to be the player of the tournament. The diminutive playmaker, who is just 5.4ft, reminds many of Gianfranco Zola and this tournament, after struggling for playing time at Juventus last season, could be the making of the midfielder.

The talented players are not just found up front. Typically, this Italian side should be strong at the back with a safe pair of hands provided in goal by Andrea Consigli of Atalanta. Whilst Genoa defender Salvatore Bocchetti and Juventus pair Paolo De Ceglie and Claudio Marchisio will also likely deflate the developing myth that there are no good young players in Serie A. (Italy are 5/4 to keep a clean sheet.)

Serbia, though, should not be written off. Boasting a hugely talented side, combined with the knowledge that opening games in big tournaments can often be tight affairs, the Eastern Europeans could well be worth a flutter. (Serbia are 22/10 to win.) To confirm this theory, the 2007 competition saw Serbia beat Italy 1-0 in the opening game and end up as group winners whilst Italy could only finish third in the group.

Miralem Sulejmani (2/1 to score) is the key man for Serbia and makes a mockery of the claims that all the scouts in world football will be watching this tournament. The 20-year-old former Partizan Belgrade attacker moved from Heerenveen to Ajax for 16 million euros last summer.

Like Giovinco, Sulejmani may not be the best player to stick your “first goalscorer” money on, whilst he is tricky on the ball and is difficult to dispossess, he still has a long way to go to improve his finishing.

Most of the English press have also been quick to mention Zoran Tosic of Manchester United and it will be interesting to see how he fares in Sweden. After all, he was the makeweight in the deal to bring Adem Ljajic to Old Trafford – Ljajic, despite being eligible, is not in the Serbia squad. Another attacking youngster is Vojvodina Novi Sad winger Dusan Tadic who is one of the greatest lesser-known talents playing in this tournament.

One of the players to emerge during the 2007 version of this tournament for Serbia was Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic. Similarly, defensive midfielder Gojko Kacar could likely emerge as Serbia’s star man in 2009 after a stellar season with surprise Bundesliga challengers Hertha Berlin.

Both Italy (five time winners of this competition) and Serbia (in all their previous guises) have a fine record at this level of international football. There is enough talent playing in this one to ensure the level should be very high and the winners will feel they can go all the way.

101gg predicts: Italy 2 – Serbia 2 (16/1) & Mario Balotelli to score (5/4)

Full match odds here.