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Europe, News, Under 21s

European Under 21 Championship Preview: England v Italy

Wilfried Zaha is one of England's key men, playing either on the wing or up front.

Wilfried Zaha is one of England’s key men, playing either on the wing or up front.

England’s opening encounter has the potential to be one of the most thrilling ties of the competition and is undoubtedly the fiercest match-up in Group A.

Both sides have had time to relax with the relief of missing out on the group of death – Germany, Holland, Spain and Russia take on each other in Group B – but will have been eyeing up each other’s selection ahead of tomorrow’s fixture.

One of Stuart Pearce’s brightest hopes is Wilfried Zaha. The Manchester United striker was influential in sealing Crystal Palace’s return to the Premier League next season but could miss out on England’s opener through injury.

The long season is taking its toll on the 20-year-old, but Pearce believes he should be okay for the Italy fixture.

“He shouldn’t be a doubt,” said Pearce.

“We’ll have another look at him but we shouldn’t have a problem.”

England have a host of other household names that should secure their qualification to the semi-finals of the tournament from Group A.

Jack Butland is expected to start in goal for the Lions, one year after he was named in Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2012. Jordan Henderson captains the side after an ever-improving season for Liverpool and Sunderland hitman Connor Wickham leads the line up front.

Tom Ince and Danny Rose will miss out tomorrow evening through injury but should be regulars upon their return to the squad against Norway on Saturday.

Italy come into the tournament as the most successful nation in European Under 21 Championship history – winning the tournament a staggering five times.

Marco Verratti has a Ligue 1 winners medal to his name after a successful season with PSG. Image: goal.com

Marco Verratti has a Ligue 1 winners medal to his name after a successful season with PSG. Image: goal.com

Marco Verratti is their star player on this occasion. Fresh off the back of winning a French league title with Paris St Germain, the deep-lying playmaker has at times dictated football at the summit of Ligue 1 and despite his age hasn’t looked out of depth among the world-renowned stars of the French capital.

The Italians come into the tournament in ripe form. They have recently beat Ukraine, Germany and Russia in friendlies, after defeating Sweden over two legs in the play-off qualification round to reach the finals.

Lorenzo Insigne is another huge threat England will have to look out for. The Napoli star will play in the second striker role, tasked with providing the ammunition for hitman Manolo Gabbiadini, who has one senior cap to his name.

A weakness that Pearce’s men will be looking to exploit is the Italians bad disciplinary record. Devis Mangia’s side picked up three red cards and 26 bookings during their qualification campaign. Rattled?

England Under 21 v Italy Under 21 is live on Sky Sports tomorrow. Kick off is 7.30pm BST.

Why not watch this video of last time England and Italy met?

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About Tom Bennett

I'm a 21-year-old Multimedia Journalism student at Bournemouth University aspiring to be one of Britain's top sports journalists. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for contact and further information.

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