The Euro 2012 seems to be repeating itself as Italy and Spain are again battling for the European Championship trophy, although this time at Under-21 level. Once again, la Furia Roja are the favourites, but it remains to be seen if they can justify the tag this time out.
Italy Under-21 side did pretty well to reach the 2013 European Championship, having eased off to a 4-2 aggregate victory over Sweden in the play-offs, but they were not exactly seen as one of the candidates for the title in Israel. The likes of Verratti, Florenzi, Immobile and Insigne have been called for the tournament finals, but a number of star players has gone missing. Nevertheless, the Azzurrini started the tournament brightly, defeating England and Israel before sharing spoils with Norway to win the first place in the group. Devis Mangia's side then produced quite a coup by beating very good Netherlands side in the semi-finals, but I still don't think they have what it takes to defeat star-studded Spain. Unlike their next opponents, the Azzurrini have quite a few weak spots in the team and that is likely to prove the difference in the final count.
Lorenzo Insigne has returned into action after recovering from an ankle injury, meaning Devis Mangia will once again have fully fit squad to choose from.
Probable starting line-up (4-4-2): Bardi - Donati, Bianchetti, Caldirola, Regini - Florenzi, Rossi, Verratti, Insigne - Immobile, Borini.
Just like their senior teammates, Spain Under-21 have been dominating the European stage of late, with the team winning the 2011 European Championship in Denmark. They have since largely impressed in the qualifiers, dropping just few points on the road to tournament finals, where they have been simply unstoppable. Having brought most star players to Israel, Spain recorded four straight victories to reach the final, without conceding a single goal in the process, so no wonder they have been made favourites against Spain. With the likes of Isco, Thiago and Morata, among others, in excellent form at the moment, la Furia Roja look they can defeat Italy as well and end the competition with a perfect record. Given that they are once again set to be at full strength, I certainly wouldn't bet against Spain winning the title for the second time in a row.
With no fresh injury worries to report, boss Julen Lopetegui is expected to field the same side that recorded a 3-0 victory over Norway in the semi-finals.
Probable starting line-up (4-3-3): De Gea - Montoya, Bartra, Inigo Martinez, Moreno - Koke, Illarramendi, Thiago - Tello, Rodrigo, Isco.
Medium stake on away win.
Many eyes will be on Tashkent, however, as both sides know that if Uzbekistan fail to beat Qatar, they will qualify for Brazil no matter what the result. Only Japan has booked a berth for Brazil 2014, and the national teams from South Korea, Iran, Uzbekistan, Australia and Oman all are hoping to secure one of the three remaining automatic spots. Two will miss out on direct entry, and then go into calculations for the Asian playoff for an intercontinental qualifier
A draw in Ulsan would secure automatic qualification for both Korea and Iran unless the Uzbeks can score a big win over Qatar, who are out of contention, which would push the West Asians into third and a playoff place. The two third-place finishers in the Asian qualifying groups will face off over two legs with the winners advancing to take on a South American side in two matches for a berth in Brazil.
A late surge from Queiroz's team has seen them leap above Uzbekistan in the table and into contention for a top-two finish, they have also scored five goals in their last two matches without conceding and will be aiming to recreate the 1-0 victory they had over Korea in the first meeting in the group.
Iran will hope the meanest defence in the fourth round of qualifying will be able to nullify the second-highest scorers. Iran have conceded just twice in their seven matches, while Korea have notched 13.
South Korea can beat them if they just focus on playing their own game. South Korea’s promise to “make life painful” for Iran and to force their captain to cry “tears of blood” have sharply raised the stakes before today’s clash between the Asian giants in Ulsan. But Iran is currently the hottest team in Group A and they have stormed into second place in the group standings after thrashing Lebanon 4-0 last week.
The South Koreans know that a draw will be enough to qualify but will be missing a number of players including English Premier League star Ki Sung Yeung and 2012 Olympic captain Koo Ja Cheol. In addition, senior team captain Kwak Tae Hwi was injured in the Uzbekistan win and will be absent. The hosts will be looking to forward Son Heung Min, who recently signed for Bayer Leverkusen, to cause problems for Iran.
The 2002 semi-finalists South Korea will be aiming to seal their eighth consecutive berth at the tournament and ninth overall. Iran have contested three World Cups. Iran have won 10 of their 26 head-to-head games against nine victories for South Korea
Ahead of the final round of games, South Korea lead Group A on 14 points, with Iran on 13 and Uzbekistan 11. The top two teams qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The third-placed side enter a play-off series.
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|18/06||5:00 PM||Euro Champ. U21||Italy U21 - Spain U21||1 X 2||1.82||2||16
|18/06||11:00 AM||Eastbourne WTA||Tamira Paszek - Caroline Wozniacki||1 - 2||1.35||2||15
|19/06||2:00 AM||2014 WC North American Qual.||United States - Honduras||1 X 2||1.45||1||13
|18/06||4:00 PM||Eastbourne ATP||Kevin Anderson - Julien Benneteau||1 - 2||1.68||1||13
|19/06||3:00 AM||2014 WC North American Qual.||Costa Rica - Panama||1 X 2||1.58||1||12
|18/06||3:30 PM||Hertogenbosch ATP||Igor Sijsling - Stanislas Wawrinka||1 - 2||1.45||2||11
|18/06||1:35 PM||Eastbourne ATP||Viktor Troicki - Martin Klizan||1 - 2||3.30||2||11
|18/06||10:00 AM||Hertogenbosch WTA||Roberta Vinci - Kaia Kanepi||1 - 2||1.60||1||11
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