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Friday, 16 June 2017

Under 21 European Championships and Confederations Cup Picks 2017 (June 16-July 2)

There are a couple of months to go before the return of the Premier League, but that doesn't mean this is a summer without any football at all.

Next summer will obviously be the main event of the World Cup in Russia, but this year we have a preview of how things will run with the Confederations Cup. The hosts are there as part of a three European nation push, while the rest of the teams making up the eight nation tournament look solid enough.

All of those teams will be hoping to earn their place at the World Cup Finals next summer and can use this competition as a momentum boost to take into the remaining Qualifiers which begin at the end of August.

We also have the new format of the Under 21 European Championships to enjoy over the remainder of the month which should provide a football fix for those who find their days are a little bit slower in these two months before it all begins again in August.

Over the next few weeks, I will be keeping this as the featured post with picks added when I find them. Hopefully these two tournaments can provide some entertainment for the fans as we get to see the stars of the future as well as those who will be looking to make a big impact next summer at the World Cup Finals.

Friday 16th June
Sweden Under 21 v England Under 21 Pick: Both Sweden Under 21 and England Under 21 will feel they come into this tournament with every chance of moving through to the Semi Final. A win in this opening game might put them in a strong position in the Group knowing they are facing their best opponent, but that might also make this a tight game where neither team wants to take too many chances.

Lots of interested eyes will be looking at the England Under 21 team to see if they can match what the England Under 20 team did by winning the World Cup at that level. That might have increased the pressure on this set of players to perform and at least match the 2009 squad who reached the Final of the European Championship.

The changes over a two year period means winning back to back European Championships at the Under 21 level is very difficult. That is the test for Sweden who have a few players who have performed for the full national team, but who are considered a fairly big underdog in this opening game.

They are missing Joel Asoro, a striker, through suspension but that is balanced out by the lack of striking options for England having allowed Marcus Rashford to miss this tournament.

It feels like both teams could settle for a point and take their chances with Poland and Slovakia in the Group. That point is also potentially valuable when it comes to the best Runner Up spot if these two nations can win their remaining two games as they would likely be favoured to do so.

Immediately I thought England looked short in this one and a tight game looks to be in the offing as it was when they met in the Group Stage two years ago. On that occasion an 85th minute winner from Jesse Lingard was good enough for England, but I will look for Sweden to hold them to a point in this one.

A minimum unit selection on the draw looks the choice here.

Poland Under 21 v Slovakia Under 21 Pick: With one team overachieving and making it through to the European Championship Finals at the expense of a 'bigger name' nation, and the other only making their appearance in the Finals thanks to being the host, there isn't a lot of expectation on Slovakia Under 21 and Poland Under 21. The fact they have been placed in a difficult Group hasn't helped matters either.

It has been seventeen years since Slovakia last played in the Under 21 European Championship Finals, but they did make it out of the Group that year. They surprised the Netherlands by winning the Qualifying Group, although it does have to be said that Slovakia have struggled when facing teams who will be playing in these Finals.

On the other hand, it is twenty-three years since the second of back to back Finals appearances for Poland Under 21. That suggests it will be a big step up for them and Poland have lost consecutive games in preparation for the tournament they are hosting, while it should be remembered that both defeats have come against teams who will be playing in the Finals.

Poland have come into this one as the favourites, but I think that is disrespecting Slovakia who I felt may be the stronger team. You have to factor in the fact that Poland are playing at home but Slovakia won in Holland and drew in Turkey and clearly won't be overawed by facing Poland.

One common theme for both of these teams is that they have focused on getting the three points knowing they have tougher games in the Group to come. There has been a lot of suggestion that they are going to play attacking football and both Poland and Slovakia have shown they can score goals.

Unfortunately they have both also conceded goals and I do think both teams will have their chances to score. The draw likely does neither team much of a favour so I think Poland and Slovakia do push forward looking to win the game and I will look for at least three goals to be shared out between them.

Saturday 17th June
Russia v New Zealand Pick: There are some big questions for both Russia and New Zealand entering this tournament and we may get a few answers in the very first game of the Confederations Cup.

The hosts will be hoping to show that their off field problems at the Euro 2016 Finals will not be on display here nor at the World Cup in twelve months time. However the answers the fans will want is from the question of whether or not this transitional Russian team are capable of much better than they showed in France last summer?

There is only so much you can information you can take away from friendly matches, but Russia's inconsistent results have to be a concern. Going out early at the World Cup next year is not an option and failing to win this opening game at the Confederations Cup will put Russia in a really poor position to make the Semi Finals at this tournament.

Pressure is on the players to perform and I do think that is going to play a part in this one. It will be tough to break down the New Zealand team anyway, but that might become a more and more difficult task the longer this game is 0-0.

For New Zealand the question is whether they can raise their game to take on the nations they will face at the Confederations Cup? It will give the team and fans a real insight into whether or not they have a chance to Qualify for the World Cup Finals when taking on a South American opponent in the Play Offs later this year.

The problem for New Zealand will always be finding the consistency in the final third to break down the better nations they will face, although they do have a defensive foundation that can trouble teams. Unfortunately for New Zealand I am not sure they don't have a defensive lapse or two which can be punished by Russia over the course of a ninety minute match.

That happened in friendly losses in Northern Ireland and Belarus and it feels like Russia will find a way to break down New Zealand and win this game. It will be tight and tense and a goal for New Zealand will likely put too much pressure on Russia to win this game so I do feel they need to win this one with a clean sheet.

That does feel the most likely outcome of this match and I will look for the hosts to get off to a winning start with a clean sheet to boot.

Portugal Under 21 v Serbia Under 21 Pick: The oddsmakers think this will be a Group dominated by Portugal Under 21 and Spain Under 21, but I think they could have potentially underrated how dangerous Serbia Under 21 could be. However with only one place guaranteed a spot in the Semi Final, it would take a considerable effort for Serbia to finish above both Portugal and Spain who are amongst the favourites to win this tournament.

They will be dangerous as shown by solid draws with Italy during the Qualifiers and Serbia also played and earned a draw with Germany in their opening game of the 2015 edition of this tournament.

Two years ago Portugal may have reached the Final of this tournament, but they only won 1 of their 3 Group games and so backing them to open this tournament at odds on is having a lot of faith in them. Portugal played well in the Qualifiers and have a solid looking squad, but Serbia's own results in Qualification makes them a threat.

Both teams have had their issues when it comes to clean sheets and the 1-1 looks a big player in this opening game, but there is the positive aspect of only one team going through that leads me to my pick.

It has been made clear by Portugal that they feel winning the Group will be the only route through to the Semi Final and with Spain to come that makes this a must win game. The draw won't do a lot for Serbia either knowing how strong the Spanish squad looks to be and that should mean both teams play with a lot of ambition to score goals and win the game.

As I said, the 1-1 is perhaps the biggest issue against this game going over the two goal line, but there shouldn't be an issue with the teams settling for that and I am going to look for this fixture to end up with at least three goals shared out. I am anticipating Portugal may get the better of Serbia, but it will be tight and goals are what I am expecting the most.

Spain Under 21 v Macedonia Under 21 Pick: Any team that can earn their place in a twelve team major international tournament have to be respected so no one should expect Macedonia Under 21 to roll over. However they have been placed in a very difficult Group in which their opponents will be looking to bolster goal difference against them and Macedonia will have to show considerable heart to get through the next three games.

The opening game will mean it will be difficult for the Spain Under 21 to break down Macedonia who should be resilient, but ultimately there is a lot of quality in this Spanish squad that should get the job done.

With the new format, Spain are unlikely to be settling for a narrow win and that should mean we have an entertaining game as Macedonia should find some chances on the counter. However, it should be Spain who are making the majority of the opportunities and I think they will prove to be too good for Macedonia and underline their spot as the favourites to win the title here.

In recent months Macedonia have simply not come up against a team of the quality they will face in Poland. That could mean they are a little undercooked and Macedonia were hammered 3-0 at Iceland in their Qualifying Group which could be something like the outcome of this one.

Macedonia will look to make life as difficult as possible for Spain, but they may end up chasing this game and I will look for the Spanish to cover the Asian Handicap.

Sunday 18th June
Portugal v Mexico Pick: This looks to be the fixture in Group A that is likely to determine the winner and runner up in the march to the Semi Final. Of course drawing a line through the hosts Russia is perhaps not an ideal position, but Portugal and Mexico both look like they are going to be stronger than them.

The recent form certainly suggests that even if Portugal have work to do to make sure they are competing at the World Cup Finals next summer. They are still chasing down Switzerland in their World Cup Qualifying Group with a big Qualifier to come at the beginning of the new season.

However Portugal have been in fine form recently with 6 wins from 7 games and scoring at least twice in each of those games. They have brought together a solid squad of players to have a real go at winning the Confederations Cup and Portugal will be led by Cristiano Ronaldo who will still be able to produce his best football even being surrounded by the rumours that he wants to leave Real Madrid.

I have been leaning towards Portugal beginning this tournament with a win and that is despite recognising Mexico's solid run of recent form. However I can't ignore the fact that Mexico have not exactly played a strong list of nations during their run of 1 loss in 13 games, especially when that defeat came against the best team they have faced in that time in Croatia.

The first game of a Group can be a tight affair and I do think that will be the case here. Both teams may see a point as a positive result with the two weaker teams in the Group to come, but Portugal might be slightly stronger having been more battle hardened in recent months with the quality of opposition they have faced.

With Portugal finding goals in their games, I think they may just edge out Mexico in this one and I will back the European Champions at odds against.

Cameroon v Chile Pick: This is the opening game in Group B and the section looks to be a two horse race between Germany and Chile. The latter get underway on Sunday when they take on the youthful Cameroon team who surprised everyone by winning the African Cup of Nations earlier this year.

They have struggled to get into a position to Qualify for the World Cup Finals next summer and Cameroon don't have a lot of experience facing the teams of the quality of Chile on a regular basis.

The fear for Chile fans is they have not played as well away from home as they tend to do at home, but they did win the Copa America in the United States last summer. With the likes of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez in the starting line up, Chile look like having a little too much for Cameroon and I do think it will be difficult for the latter to stay with the South American nation in this one.

I wouldn't put too much stock in the 0-4 loss Cameroon suffered against Colombia in a friendly as that came with a mixed starting line up sent out by the African Champions. However I think Chile are going to have a little too much going forward in this one and I can see Chile winning this by a couple of goals on the day.

Backing Chile to cover the Asian Handicap looks the way to go in this one as the young Cameroon side struggle to deal with the attacking quality that Chile will produce over ninety minutes.

Germany Under 21 v Czech Republic Under 21 Pick: A number of the Germany Under 21 squad that has helped them win 10 straight Qualifiers to book their place in the Finals will be playing in Russia rather than Poland this summer. However there is still a great depth of talent that Germany can rely upon in a tournament that has been taken very seriously by the nation.

This is not going to be an easy Group for Germany to negotiate and even the opening game against what looks the weakest team in the section is going to be a difficult one for them. The Czech Republic Under 21 side have done well to come through their own Qualifying Group and have produced a couple of solid wins over fellow Qualified nations in friendly games to be respected.

They have proven to be a team who can score goals having found the net in 18 consecutive games at this level, although 1 clean sheet in 7 games suggests there is a vulnerability that Germany can potentially expose.

Recent Germany games have been tighter affairs with the last 4 games all ending 1-0, half of those in Germany wins and the other half in Germany losses. However the need for the three points is likely going to see Germany push forward, while goals may be important for them in case of a Runner Up finish and I think that will make this another fairly entertaining game.

Usually the opening Group games can be tight affairs, but the format of this tournament means teams can't always settle for draws. That is really the case for Germany here which may mean the Czech Republic are dragged into an attacking game even though they would likely take a point against the favourites to win the Group.

With the format as it is, a narrow defeat does nothing for either team and that should mean there is an attacking game that develops with both teams likely to create some chances. 9 of the last 10 Czech Republic games have finished with at least three goals shared out, while 9 of the last 11 competitive Germany games have done the same.

This fixture finished 1-1 in the Group two years ago, a result that helped Germany through to the Semi Final at the expense of the Czech Republic. With this being the opening game this time, I will expect a little more pressure to find a third goal and I will back at least three goals to be shared out by these nations.

Denmark Under 21 v Italy Under 21 Pick: No one will doubt the talent that Italy Under 21 have taken to Poland for the European Championship Finals this summer, but recent form has been less impressive. While they are considered the biggest danger to Germany in the Group, the whole section feels quite open.

The team who will be looking to take advantage of any doubts will most likely be Denmark Under 21, although they have to improve to really compete with the teams they will be facing in the Finals.

Both of these teams have not had the best set of results when facing the other nations that have Qualified for the Finals and that will raise some doubts about both. There are other similarities too as both Denmark and Italy will be hoping to showcase their strong defensive formations which made them so tough to beat in the Qualifiers.

Games between the nations have been keenly contested in recent times too and there might be something the goalless draw in the friendly most recently shows.

While the draw is not an ideal result, I think both Denmark and Italy will look to make life as difficult as possible for the other by restricting space in their final third. It could very easily be a game decided by a single goal here and I am going to look for one of these teams to fail to get on the scoreboard.

Italy look plenty short when you think of their recent performances that have produced 2 wins from their last 9 games. Add in their run of draws with Denmark and it's hard to recommend Italy at short odds to win this match, but a tight and competitive game looks to be in the offing here.

Monday 19th June
Australia v Germany Pick: The question mark around the Germany squad raises some doubts as they have put together an inexperienced group of players that only has three who won the World Cup in 2014. The build for Germany is to make sure their players are ready to go for the World Cup Finals next summer so Joachim Low has left out some big names to ensure they have a chance to recharge the batteries and instead promoted a number of players to the full international squad.

That does make Germany a vulnerable favourite in the Confederations Cup, although I am not expecting them to have any issues coming out of a Group containing Australia, Cameroon and Chile.

While Chile are going to be a difficult test, Germany should be too good for the other two nations they face beginning with Australia who are not as talented as the squads they could produce a decade ago.

Australia do look on course for a place at the World Cup Finals next summer and have to be respected for winning the Asian Cup to get into the Confederations Cup. However a 0-4 home loss to Brazil a few days ago will not have inspired a lot of confidence in Australia, even if the players are outwardly displaying plenty of confidence to not only progress to the Semi Final, but winning this tournament.

That looks a long shot for a team who have not really been able to match the superior nations they have faced in recent times. Losses to England and Greece, as well as Brazil, plus the performance in the 3-2 win over Saudi Arabia will encourage Germany who still have enough quality to win games like this one.

I expect Germany to continue their run of wins over Australia in competitive games as they take advantage of the defensive errors which have blighted Australia in recent games. Those individual errors will be punished by this German team and will be enough for Germany to cover the Asian Handicap in my opinion.

Slovakia Under 21 v England Under 21 PickA Jordan Pickford penalty save in the latter stages of the first game of the Under 21 European Championship 2017 helped England Under 21 earn a point against the defending Champions. It will be seen as a positive point as England will feel they are going to be facing the two weaker teams in the section and getting up to 7 points will certainly give them a chance to Qualify for the Semi Final as the best Runner Up at least.

The goal at this stage will still be to win the Group, but that is exactly what Slovakia Under 21 will be looking to achieve after an impressive performance in their own opening game. After going a goal down in the first minute of their game, Slovakia fought back to beat the hosts Poland Under 21 and now they are in control of the Group.

There was much to admire about the way Slovakia played in their opening game as they looked to be very positive in the final third and certainly felt like the better team. Attacking play has been the foundation for Slovakia's success and reaching the European Championship Final at this level and they will certainly feel they can trouble the England back line who did have a few issues with the pace that Sweden Under 21 had in the final third.

England also have to show more creativity than they did in the first game as they struggled to find the shots on target without Marcus Rashford leading the line as they perhaps would have hoped. One shot on target is not going to win too many football games, but there has been some positive talk from the England camp who continue to talk up their attacking chances.

One of the key areas will be the set pieces and wide play for England who looked very threatening in those situations in the first game. That happens to be the kind of areas where Slovakia also looked most vulnerable against Poland whose goal came from a header and that is where England can cause problems.

On the other hand Slovakia are going to have their opportunities if they can continue playing the way they did against Poland. There was confidence with the ball at their feet and you can see why Slovakia have scored in 12 of their last 13 games including against the likes of Czech Republic and Serbia in friendly games prior to the tournament.

This is a big challenge against a solid looking England team, but I do think Slovakia will have their moments. England do look short to win the game even if I am expecting a much better performance overall than the one they produced against Sweden.

Both teams should play with plenty of attacking intent behind them and I think we could see a very positive game that does produce chances at both ends. England could narrowly get the better of Slovakia with a little more threat from the set pieces, but I expect Slovakia will play their part in this one too. At the end of the day, goals could be on the cards in this one and it looks a decent price to back that to be the outcome.

Poland Under 21 v Sweden Under 21 Pick: The hosts of any international tournament are considered very important to the overall event, but there won't be a lot of positives that Poland Under 21 can take away from their first game. The newspapers have compared things to the way the 2012 European Championships went for the full international team when they hosted it back then, but this Poland Under 21 side still have a chance to recover.

Things started so well for them in their opening game with a goal inside the first two minutes which gave Poland the lead against Slovakia Under 21, but eventually losing that game 1-2 has put them under pressure. There will be a feeling that Poland need to win this game to have any chance of Qualifying for the Semi Final but the issues have tended to come against the nations who have made it to the Finals with 3 straight losses to Italy, Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Defensively Poland really struggled in their opening game and they could have conceded a couple more goals. The goalkeeper didn't have a good game with a mistake for the first goal conceded, while Poland have suffered a blow after Bartosz Kapustka had to come off with an injury in the first game.

With a loss and Kapustka likely out of this one, Poland are under pressure to win this game and Sweden Under 21 are making that clear. While Sweden claim a draw isn't the end for them, there is still an importance attached to this game for the defending Champions with only one team able to make it out of the Group.

Sweden didn't play well initially in their opening game, but looked much more threatening in the second half against England Under 21 and perhaps will feel they dropped two points. A missed penalty with under ten minutes to play meant Sweden had to settle for a point, although two wins could see them through to the Semi Final even if they finish as Runners Up in the Group.

A draw and Sweden will be hoping for results to go their way around the rest of the tournament so there is some pressure on them to perform here. The second half performance against England was very encouraging and this Poland team do look susceptible to making mistakes at the back which puts a lot of pressure on the strikers to keep them in the game.

Goals can be a problem for Sweden, but they were creating chances against a solid looking England team and I expect there will be more room to exploit for them in this one. They might not have had a lot of success when visiting Poland in recent times, but Sweden showed enough in the opening game to think they can make big odds count in this one.

With Poland conceding at least twice in each of their last 3 games, I will be looking for the defending Champions to help knock out the hosts in this one and put themselves in a position to challenge for a Semi Final spot later in the week. I expect Poland to cause some problems from set pieces as England did against Sweden, but ultimately Sweden can show enough in the final third to win this one.

Tuesday 20th June
Serbia Under 21 v Macedonia Under 21 PickThese two neighbouring nations will have more than pride on the line when they meet in the second of the Group games in this section. Both Serbia Under 21 and Macedonia Under 21 have a rivalry with one another, but there is more on the line after both were beaten in their opening Group fixture.

The Serbia loss to Portugal Under 21 and Macedonia's loss to Spain Under 21 means the losing team in this one will be out of the competition. Neither will want to finish with a draw either as that would effectively see them exit the event too while goals are going to be important for both Serbia and Macedonia who were beaten comfortably in their opening game.

It may not tell the whole story for either team though as both Serbia and Macedonia had their chances against teams who were considered amongst the favourites to win the tournament. That does raise the encouragement of seeing a good football game on Tuesday with both Serbia and Macedonia looking to get on the front foot and score the goals to reignite their chances of making it through to the Semi Final.

Serbia had plenty of possession against Portugal and they were perhaps a little unfortunate to be on the wrong side of the 2-0 defeat. There has to be some more quality in the final third to really see Serbia get into a position to make their last Group game against Spain a meaningful one.

The side have now only won 1 of their last 5 games and failure to score in 3 of their last 5 has to be a concern for Serbia, although they will feel facing Macedonia will present some chances for their strikers.

There was some nerves in the Portugal team at the end of their win over Serbia, but for Macedonia there has to be a significant improvement defensively to compete over their last couple of games. Macedonia had plenty of shots against Spain, but it was the clinical finishing of the Spanish that made the difference as the underdogs in this Group were knocked aside 5-0.

Macedonia had won 5 in a row prior to that defeat to Spain, although the fear has always been that they haven't really faced the top nations in that run of wins. They impressed enough in forward positions to think they can trouble this Serbia team who look plenty short to win the game.

The last time these rivals met saw Serbia demolish Macedonia 5-1 at home in 2012, and I would not be surprised if goals are the outcome of this one. It makes no sense for either team to really want to sit back for a point that does nothing for them and that should see an open game develop.

Both need to be more clinical when they are in the final third, but there is a feeling that they can do that against defences that are not as organised as the ones they would have seen in the opening games. Serbia and Macedonia still created their chances though and this feels like a game that will feature three or more goals as the neighbours look to get back into contention in Group B.

Portugal Under 21 v Spain Under 21 Pick: As two of the leading contenders to win the Under 21 European Championship, it was vital for Portugal Under 21 and Spain Under 21 to get their tournaments off to a strong start. With only place available for the Semi Final this fixture always looked to be a pivotal one in the Group and that looks to be the case.

After Sweden Under 21 conceded a late goal in their 2-2 draw with Poland, the best Runner Up spot is still a possibility for someone from this Group and that is what both of these teams have to be thinking.

For Spain they have to believe they are already in a strong position having shown off the talent they have in the final third in their 5-0 drubbing of Macedonia Under 21. That should allow them to play with a little more freedom as their goal difference has received a significant boost and so the need to win the fixture is less important than it may be on paper.

Avoiding defeat will continue to leave Spain in control of the Group with a fixture against Serbia Under 21 to come. Spain are unbeaten in 10 games at this level since their surprising 0-3 home defeat to Croatia and they have won 3 in a row, although the 2 draws with Austria in the Play Offs to make the European Championship Finals continue to look out of place when considering the talent Spain have.

Goals are clearly not going to be a big issue for Spain as they showed when producing some clinical finishing against Macedonia in their opening game. However Macedonia had their opportunities too which suggests the better teams in this tournament could have some joy against Spain.

One of those could be Portugal who have already secured their three points with a 2-0 win over Serbia, although they didn't play as well as they would have liked. That could see changes made to the starting eleven with Renato Sanches expected to return to the midfield after having an infection which meant starting on the bench over the weekend.

His return should strengthen a Portugal team who gave away too much of the ball against Serbia and doing that against Spain is not going end well for them. However Portugal are unbeaten in 20 games at this level which will give them confidence and I think they will give Spain some troubles of their own.

I do think Spain have become too short after their first game when they impressed against the weakest team in the Group. On the other hand I am not sure Portugal have enough to win this game either and I can see a situation where both teams end up settling for the point which could be very important in helping both progress through to the Semi Final.

A point here will mean Spain and Portugal could move onto 7 points with wins in their final Group games and that could be enough to progress for both. I don't think these teams will risk a loss if we do get down to the last 20 minutes with the scores tied up and I will have a small interest in the points being shared here.

Wednesday 21st June
Russia v Portugal PickWith two games remaining in this Group, this has become a pivotal game for both Russia and Portugal in their bid to reach the Semi Final. The Russia win over New Zealand coupled with Portugal's draw with Mexico means the hosts are in control of a place in the last four, but things can quickly change in this Group.

It was an expected win for Russia in their opening Group game against arguably the weakest team in the Confederations Cup as they dominated New Zealand. That was a result that was necessary for Russia in their bid to make the Semi Final of the tournament they host ahead of the World Cup Finals and it comes in their first competitive action in a little under twelve months since Russia were beaten in the Euro 2016 Group Stage.

That Russia team looked very short of the standard that would be required to have an impact at the Confederations Cup and the World Cup Finals they will be hosting. It has seen a transition being made from the older players to the new faces that will be the future of Russian football, although it is difficult to know what we have learned from a win over an opponent who clearly look overmatched.

Perhaps the fact that it wasn't as easy a win for Russia as some may have expected shows us more than the three points they did earn. They will certainly need to be better when playing Portugal, the European Champions, in their second game in the Group.

Portugal are coming off a disappointing 2-2 draw with Mexico having conceded the equaliser in injury time. There was much to like about the Portugal performance but two mistakes at the back cost them two goals and there are some changes expected for this game, although those are to make Portugal a bigger threat going forward.

A loss would be a huge blow for Portugal, but this is not a 'must win' game for them although that doesn't mean the usually cautious Fernando Santos will look to settle for that result. They definitely look like the team who has the pace in the forward areas to unsettle this Russia team who have had a strong record at home against Portugal in recent years.

Russia are unbeaten in their last couple of home games against Portugal in World Cup Qualifiers, but this is a Portugal team who have scored plenty of goals in recent months. Portugal have now scored at least twice in their last 8 games and I think they are going to give this slow Russia team plenty of problems.

However Russia will sit back in numbers and try and restrict the space that Portugal can use their space in and the draw is a real player in this one. I don't think Russia will be good enough to go on and win the game unless Portugal get desperate, but that is not Santos' style and he won't overly commit his players forward if this game is tied with time running down.

I do feel Portugal showed enough in their opening game to think they can do a little more to take the points in this one. They will have to be patient knowing a draw will mean needing a win over New Zealand to progress, but Portugal should have a bit too much quality for the hosts and win in Russia for the first time.

I expect the pace in the final third to eventually lead to a couple more opportunities for Portugal which can help them earn a priceless three points to move to the brink of the Semi Finals.

Mexico v New Zealand Pick: The late point earned by Mexico against Portugal in their opening Confederations Cup game is going to give the Gold Cup Champions a strong opportunity to move through to the Semi Finals of this tournament. The actual scenario will be much clearer for Mexico once the Russia versus Portugal is completed earlier in the day, although the one aspect that will be certain is that they need to beat New Zealand.

After seeing Russia beat New Zealand 2-0 in the opening game, Mexico may feel they need to match that scoreline at the very least to give themselves the chance to move through to the Semi Final. The performance against Portugal was a mixed one as for long periods Mexico looked like the second best team on the park, but they also had some really nice moments of possession.

There was still some fortune in Mexico coming back late in the game to earn a point as Portugal perhaps switched off following a delay while the officials checked the awful VAR system being used. However that level of performance will give Mexico every chance of being too strong for New Zealand.

Mexico have scored two or more goals in 3 of their last 4 games and even the changes that are expected to be made for this game should not see them change their attacking philosophy. That will give New Zealand some trouble after the latter struggled in their loss to Russia, although New Zealand did show some attacking intent which saw them pose some problems of their own.

New Zealand are certainly coming into this one with some belief as the players have pointed to their performance in losing 2-1 to Mexico in a friendly last October. On that day New Zealand created plenty of chances, although ultimately they were still unable to avoid the loss that will be expected in this one.

There will be changes to the New Zealand team too, but their situation is much clearer than Mexico's as anything less than a win will virtually eliminate them from the Confederations Cup. That should mean the All Whites push forward when they can and they have been able to score goals against Mexico in recent games against them which includes that friendly in October.

Mexico beat New Zealand home and away in the World Cup Qualifiers Play Off at the end of 2013 and New Zealand did manage to play a part in both of those fixtures by getting on the scoreboard. They will be encouraged by some of the sloppy defending Mexico produced against Portugal and I do think New Zealand may get on the scoreboard in this one, although Mexico should still have too much for their opponents as they are able to produce a win.

The recent New Zealand performances have seen them struggle for goals, but they did get forward against Russia with attacking ambition. Mexico have only kept 1 clean sheet in their last 5 games and I think a minimum unit interest on Mexico winning this game in which both teams score looks to be the potential outcome.

You can't put too much stock in friendly performances, but the fixture between these nations back in October has clearly encouraged New Zealand to play with some belief in this one. I think they will produce chances against the changed Mexico defence, but I do believe Mexico have too much attacking options of their own to fail to earn the three points.

Czech Republic Under 21 v Italy Under 21 Pick: This was expected to be a Group that was dominated by Italy Under 21 and Germany Under 21 and they are in a position to make their final game the one to decide the Group Winner. Italy produced a very effective second half performance to down Denmark Under 21 2-0 and it was an important second goal with goal difference a potential factor for those who do finish Runner Up in the section.

They look to be in a far better position than the Czech Republic Under 21 who were beaten 2-0 by Germany in their opening game and now know anything but a victory would likely end their tournament.

The scoreline looks like one where the Czech Republic were comfortably beaten, but it doesn't tell the full story. There were three or four absolute golden chances for the Czech Republic to get back into their opening game against the much fancied Germans, but they were let down by Patrik Schick who had been so influential in the Qualifiers.

Schick just didn't find the composure in front of goal that the Czech Republic would have desired and it contributed to ending the long run of games where the side had scored at least once. Chances are likely to be much fewer in the game against the vaunted Italian defence who have come through the Qualifiers with minimum fuss, but the Czech Republic are in a position where they have to get forward and fight their way back into the tournament.

It is a big task against this Italy team who have filled with talented players who are expected to progress to the full national team in the coming years. Italy have enjoyed success at the Under 21 level, although not so much recently, and this current side are expected to go very far in the tournament especially after beating Denmark by a two goal margin.

This is a big reason that Italy come into this one as a strong favourite to pick up another three points, but I am not sure this is as straightforward as the oddsmakers seem to think. The Czech Republic are a team who can create chances, while Italy have not had a lot of wins at this level over the last few months since making a very strong start to the Qualifiers for the Finals here in Poland.

Defensively they have to be respected, but Italy had only kept 1 clean sheet in 4 games prior to the tournament and that was also against Denmark. The likes of England, Poland and Spain all managed to breach this backline and Denmark did have enough shots to do the same, while the Czech Republic have some talent in the final third who will want to show more than they did in the defeat to Germany.

The draw doesn't really do a lot for either nation in this one and I think there will be goals at both ends. There is also a real chance for counter attacking options if the game is left at 1-1 in the final half hour as both Italy and Czech Republic will recognise the importance of the three points and games at this level have tended to get stretched with little time between games meaning fatigue could play a part too.

I do think this game will be another that could produce a number of goals and I am going to back the Czech Republic to be a little more clinical in front of goal and help produce a game with at least three goals shared out.

Germany Under 21 v Denmark Under 21 Pick: Goal difference could be so important for teams in case of a Runner Up finish in these Group Stages of the European Championships. That might make the penalty missed by Germany Under 21 in their 2-0 win over the Czech Republic a crucial factor later in the tournament, although the players have to simply win two more games to guarantee their place in the last four.

This could have been a really strong looking Germany team that arrived in Poland if it was not for the full team participating in the Confederations Cup. They still showed there is a significant strength in depth when seeing off the Czech Republic in the opening game, but Germany will need to improve defensively if they are going to go all the way in the 2017 Finals.

For all of the attacking play Germany enjoyed, two mistakes allowed them to score their goals and they did struggle to make the right final ball at times. Defensively they gave up some big opportunities to the Czech Republic which could have allowed their opponents back in the match, and there will be clear areas where an improvement is demanded.

Germany cannot allow their standards to slip in this tough Group C where they still have to face Italy Under 21 later in the week. Dropping points could potentially put a 'best Runners Up' spot under threat with Group B having two strong teams that could potentially be challenging for that spot and so there is a pressure on Germany.

After losing to Italy, Denmark Under 21 are in a 'must win' situation as four points are not really going to get the job done in the Group following their opening loss. The ambition of the Danes was to match the Semi Final run from two years ago, although the new format of the European Championships only made that a much more difficult task.

In all fairness, Denmark didn't play badly against Italy but couldn't match the increase in intensity that they had in the second half. They created some chances and Denmark will feel this Germany defence has some vulnerabilities to exploit, although there has to be a change in philosophy for Denmark.

Usually the defensive foundation is the strength on which Denmark build, but that might not be the case in this second game of the Group. Denmark have to show more positivity going forward and will have to take risks.

You can see why Germany have been favoured as strongly as they have in this game, but Denmark could expose some of the defensive flaws that were on display in Germany's win over the Czech Republic. That puts me off Germany considering the price, and I don't want to ask them to cover the big Asian Handicap as that might be difficult with a Denmark goal.

I do think Denmark will have their chances, but I am also expecting an open game where there will be spaces to exploit the further the game goes on. Drawing the game means almost nothing to either team and I do think the layers have got it right by shortening the price on seeing at least three goals shared out by these teams.

Outside of a 1-0 lead for either team, there should be spaces throughout the last 30 minutes and I will look for at least three goals to be reached.

Thursday 22nd June
Cameroon v Australia PickAs soon as the draw for the Confederations Cup Group Stage was made, only the most optimistic of Cameroon and Australia fans would have believed they could extend their stay in Russia beyond the initial three games scheduled. Both teams suffered losses in their opening game against Chile and Germany respectively which means the losing team in this second Group game will essentially be out of the competition.

Both nations would also have already identified the other as the best chance they will have to earn points in the Group and that could make it a very positive game of football.

We have to expect more from Cameroon who were very fortunate to come away with a 0-2 loss to Chile in their opening game. Huge Broos admitted they could have been 0-3 down after just thirty minutes as they struggled to cope with one of the favourites to win the Confederations Cup, but there is a much bigger expectation from the players now they face what is considered a weaker team.

There will be a feeling that Australia don't offer the same kind of talent throughout their squad as Chile do, while they have been poor defensively which will encourage Cameroon. The pre-tournament worries that Cameroon would perhaps forfeit their place in the event are long behind them and I do have to think a stronger Cameroon display is in the offing.

It'll have to be because Australia are no walkovers and showed a lot of heart and determination throughout their 2-3 defeat to Germany. The defensive problems which have come up in their most recent World Cup Qualifiers still reared up, but Australia have shown they are willing to take risks and they have found goals.

The game against Germany means Australia have scored at least twice in 4 of their last 6 games, even if they perhaps didn't always create the chances in the manner expected. The defending that Cameroon displayed won't get it done against an attacking Australia team and I think there is very little between them.

It made me contemplate backing Australia with the start on the Asian Handicap, but the fact they have conceded at least twice in 4 of their last 6 including the last 3 in a row has to be a worry. Cameroon will come forward knowing their chance to extend their stay in Russia will only come about with a win and so this feels like a game where both teams will be looking to get on the front foot.

I imagine both Cameroon and Australia will create their chances and this does feel like a Group game that will contain at least three goals shared out. It's likely chances will be created out of mistakes, but both have struggled for consistency defensively and I think backing goals at odds against looks a decent price.

Germany v Chile Pick: Both Germany and Chile came into the Confederations Cup as the two of the top three favourites to win the title here. The World Champions Germany did decide to rest some key players for this tournament to aid the experience for the younger players in the squad in time for future major international tournaments, and that is a real factor in why they are now the underdog in this fixture.

Prior to the tournament they were the favourites to beat the Copa America Champions Chile, but the latter have brought together a full squad outside of the injured Claudio Bravo. Most Manchester City fans will let you know that isn't the loss some would have imagined twelve months ago and Chile showed why so many have tipped them up to have a big impact at the highest level.

There is still no guarantee that Chile will be making their way to the World Cup Finals here which begin in less than twelve months time. Big Qualifiers are ahead, but Chile looked very, very comfortable in their opening win over Cameroon and only a controversial VAR call and some outstanding goalkeeping work prevented Chile being a lot further ahead before the two late goals helped them win the game.

Alexis Sanchez had a big impact after coming off the bench by setting up both goals in the 2-0 win and he should be back in the starting line up on Thursday. The attacking play from Chile was very good against Cameroon and the addition of Sanchez should make them more dangerous, although Chile will recognise the quality of the team in front of them.

Germany showed the depth they have with their new look starting eleven being able to hold off Australia for a 3-2 win, although the defensive issues will be vulnerable to the speed of the Chile attacks. They will feel they can pose more problems for Chile than Cameroon did, especially from set pieces where the African Cup of Nations Champions were looking dangerous at times.

However there is an inexperience in the Germany squad and they are playing a grizzled team in Chile who have won back to back Copa America titles. While it has to be said that Chile don't travel as well as they play at home, one of those titles did come in the United States and I was leaning towards the South American team to make it back to back wins.

They certainly look a big price to do that, but this German team still has enough quality to test a back line that did have some difficulties against Cameroon. They have shown they can score goals, but Chile will likely expose some of those defensive issues that showed up and it may be worth chancing this fixture ending up with at least four goals shared out.

England Under 21 v Poland Under 21 Pick: The final round robin in Group A at the Under 21 European Championship will see both games played simultaneously on Thursday evening and with all four teams still able to make it through to the Semi Final. There is still some hope for the Runner Up in the Group to make it through too, but England Under 21 will go into Thursday in control of the section and looking to make the Semi Final for the first time at this level since 2009.

That could make this a huge summer for English football after seeing the Under 20 team win the World Cup in South Korea and now having an opportunity to win the Under 21 European Championship. Getting out of the Group is the first issue for England who lead the section with 4 points after coming from behind to beat Slovakia Under 21 2-1 a few days ago.

It was a vital win as a defeat would have left England out of the tournament to all intents and purposes and another victory on Thursday will put them into the Semi Final. However they will have to beat the hosts Poland Under 21 who earned a late penalty to secure a 2-2 draw with Sweden Under 21 in their last game for their first point in this tournament and still with a chance of going through.

A win for Poland and a draw in the game between Slovakia and Sweden will mean there are three teams on 4 points and Poland will have the edge when it comes to goal difference at that point. The hosts have been strong at times, but they have struggled defensively which has seen Poland take a 1-0 lead in their opening two games in the tournament, but only secure a single point and even that came late in the day against Sweden.

They will cause some problems for England who will have to begin this fixture much better than they did against Slovakia last time out. Another slow start could be punished by Poland who have scored inside six minutes in both games they have played, but England will feel they have the quality in the final third to hurt Poland too.

From set pieces England are going to be very dangerous as Sweden proved to be against Poland and I do think England will win this game. However they look very short when you think of the prices Slovakia and Sweden begun their own games against Poland and that price is very short when looking at the England performances.

The better way to back England may be looking for them to win a game in which both teams score, especially as Poland have scored in 10 straight games. Poland will continue looking for the goals that could potentially see them through to the Semi Final and England have the quality from set pieces to punish them too so backing the favourites in a game where both teams score looks a decent enough price to me.

Slovakia Under 21 v Sweden Under 21 Pick: There was definitely the element of complacency in the last Sweden Under 21 game and the defending Champions are now hoping for help from elsewhere if they are going to make it through to the Semi Finals. After coming from behind to lead Poland Under 21, Sweden took the foot off the gas and were punished with a late equaliser that has left them 2 points behind England Under 21 in this Group.

That means Sweden are now in a position where they have to win this game and hope England fail to beat Poland in their last game. Anything else is likely not going to be good enough for Sweden whose maximum number of points they can reach is 5 and unlikely to be enough for a best Runners Up spot in the last four.

They will have to look in the mirror and blame themselves for being in this position. A strong second half against England saw Sweden earn a penalty with less than ten minutes remaining, but they missed that to settle for a draw. Then they allowed Poland to earn a penalty with minutes left in their second Group game which was scored and Sweden now need help.

It is important that they focus on their own game and not worry about the other fixture which is going to be played at the same time. Facing Slovakia Under 21 won't be easy as this is a team who have impressed and could already be in the Semi Final if they had held onto their lead against England in their second game.

Slovakia came from a goal down to beat Poland and will recognise that a win in this one still gives them a chance to win this Group as well as possibly finish with the best Runners Up spot. 6 points could easily do that with the way the other Groups have gone on, although Slovakia likely will need a big win.

It should mean we get to see a really good game of football between two teams who will be pushing for the three points. I do think Sweden are better than their points suggest and they should really have been in a much better position in the Group if not for late lapses in concentration.

The fear for Slovakia is there could be some fatigue having just had a tough second half against England, while I don't think they are strong defensively. Slovakia do express themselves well in the final third, but they have slowed down in the second half and I will look for the defending Champions to win this one even if it isn't enough to Qualify for the Semi Final.

Sweden do look a big price when you think what price they would have been if they had won the previous two games as they were in a position to do so. I think they can make that count in this final Group game in Group A.

Friday 23rd June
Macedonia Under 21 v Portugal Under 21 Pick: Conceding a late goal to Spain Under 21 didn't just end the Portugal Under 21 attempted comeback in their last Group game, but the 1-3 defeat will also have had an effect on their chances of making it through to the Semi Final. With Spain set to go through as Group Winners, Portugal have to win their remaining game and go in search of goals to give themselves the best chance of making it through.

In that regards, Portugal look to be the best set of the current best place Runners Up with their final fixture coming against Macedonia Under 21. The 5-0 loss to Spain in their opening Group game and then conceding late in a 2-2 draw with Serbia Under 21 means Macedonia are almost guaranteed to exit the tournament regardless of the result they can achieve in this one.

They have shown enough to suggest they could be a real threat to Portugal though as they were far better against Spain than the 5-0 result indicates. Macedonia played with confidence in that one but couldn't match the clinical finishing of the Spanish and goals can be a problem even though Macedonia produced a couple against Serbia.

Macedonia didn't play well against Serbia in the first half and got back into the game thanks to the neighbours slacking off in the second half and a slightly harsh penalty going against them. Defensively they did offer up plenty of chances for Serbia and Portugal are the kind of team who will be able to punish them.

Portugal have to punish them because of the way the best Runners Up spot could come down to goal difference and potentially goals scored. Prior to the Group A final round of games played on Thursday, there are three teams who could finish with 6 points in their Group and not win it, while all three teams have the same 3 goals scored and 3 goals conceded.

We still need to see more from Portugal in the final third, but they should find spaces a little more open in this one against this Macedonia team. While playing in a major international tournament should keep the motivation high, there were signs Macedonia could be feeling a bit of fatigue in their performance against Serbia and I will be looking for Portugal to exploit that.

With the need for goals, I am looking for Portugal to get on the front foot and I think they will prove to have too much for tired opponents who put in a huge effort to overturn a 1-0 deficit against Serbia only to concede late in the 2-2 draw. There is some quality in the Macedonia team, but they may struggle a little more in the final third compared with Portugal and I will look for the latter to secure a big win which puts the pressure on others to follow suit in the race for a Semi Final spot.

Serbia Under 21 v Spain Under 21 Pick: There was a lot of expectation of the Spain Under 21 squad heading to Poland when you think of the attacking talent they have taken, and so far they have been very impressive. In all fairness, it is the attacking talent that have shone through for Spain who have been clinical in front of goal when the chances have presented themselves even if the overall performances have not fully convinced.

More to the point, Spain have not begun either of their Group games full of confidence but the scoring of the opening goal has seen the players relax. After two games in the Groups, Spain are the top scorers at the Under 21 European Championship with strong wins over Macedonia Under 21 (5-0) and Portugal Under 21 (3-1).

That does mean Spain have earned their spot in the Semi Final and they may decide they want to rotate the squad which makes their short odds a little unappealing. However they are short because of the goals scored and face a Serbia Under 21 team that will be kicking themselves for virtually being out of the tournament.

Serbia didn't play badly in their 2-0 loss to Portugal in the opening game, but didn't show enough in the final third despite having plenty of the ball. They then dominated the first half against Macedonia before complacency set in and saw their 1-0 half time lead become a 1-2 deficit with minutes remaining.

A late goal ensure Serbia will not go home without any points, but it now means they have given themselves little chance of making it through to the Semi Final. They will need to defend better against a Spain team that might be looking for revenge having been beaten by Serbia in the 2015 Under 21 European Championship Play Offs which cost the Spanish a place in the Finals that year.

Both Macedonia and Portugal have given Spain the blueprint of how to break down a Serbia defence that has struggled to deal with fast moves inside their final third. Spain can certainly bring that to the table and they will want to ride some momentum into the Semi Final by making sure they put another win on the board.

The poor defending Serbia have shown at times will likely be exploited by Spain, even if they rotate the attacking players they have. The revenge factor should motivate Spain as should the fact they will have a Semi Final to come in a few days and I will back them to win this by a couple of goals in line with the first two games in the Group.

Saturday 24th June
Mexico v Russia PickThe results from a few days ago have confirmed what most would have expected to be the outcome from Group A at the Confederations Cup. It looks like Portugal are through to the Semi Final after their 1-0 win over Russia in the second Group game and it will take a monumental upset at the hands of New Zealand for that not to be the case.

The loss for Russia has left them on three points and it was Mexico's come from behind victory over New Zealand which has moved them up to four points having come from behind twice to earn a draw with Portugal. That means it looks to be a one game shoot out between Mexico and Russia with the winner moving into the Semi Final, while a draw will also knock the hosts out.

There is plenty of pressure on Russia whose fans have been critical of the development of the team for the World Cup Finals they host next summer. They were hoping to prove that things were on track at the Confederations Cup so being knocked out in the Group Stage would be a huge blow for Russia.

Russia were criticised for their performance in the loss to Portugal with the media unimpressed with how long it took before they tried to get back in the game. Over the last twenty minutes Russia began to look a little more dangerous, but there has been talk of being more positive from the beginning of this one with the  three points essential for them to move into the Semi Final.

Some encouragement would have come from the two Mexico performances at the Confederations Cup where they have looked pretty poor defensively. The approach taken by Mexico means they always seem to leave gaps at the back and Russia will believe they can take advantage of those, although the lack of pace in the final third and poor creativity can be a problem.

Those issues are less of a concern when you see the way Mexico defend and Russia are a big team who can impose themselves physically from set pieces. On the other hand, Mexico have showed they have speed and creativity to trouble Russia if the latter are pushing too many men forward.

At times this game should be stretched and I do think both teams can score in this one with the way Mexico have attacked and defended throughout the event. Their style of play leaves them open at the back and I am not surprised that 5 of the last 6 Mexico games have finished with both teams scoring.

I imagine that will happen in this one too, but the situation should see both Russia and Mexico have some spaces to exploit in this one. That can contribute to this game featuring at least three goals shared out between them.

New Zealand v Portugal Pick: Playing in the Confederations Cup could be giving New Zealand the type of experience they need before a World Cup Play Off with the team that finishes fifth in the South American Confederation. They have shown heart and determination in their performances, but New Zealand have been overmatched for the most part which has led to a couple of losses.

The 2-0 defeat to Russia was followed by a much better all around performance against Mexico where New Zealand had a number of chances to add to a 1-0 lead. They were punished for their lack of clinical finishing in the final third as they went down to a 2-1 loss to a much changed Mexican team and that result has knocked New Zealand out of the tournament.

It isn't often that they can get to play the European Champions and this should be motivation enough for New Zealand who have a squad of players who generally play  at a lower level than Portugal. The latter have one foot in the Semi Finals after picking up a vital 1-0 win over Russia a few days ago, and Portugal just need a point to confirm their place in the next Round.

Portugal have played well for the large parts of their two games, but they will be threatened by New Zealand from set pieces. That is perhaps the best way New Zealand are going to have to break down a well organised Portugal team, but the bigger concern may be how New Zealand are able to stop Portugal in the final third.

There is pace in those positions for Portugal, and they have a midfield that will control the tempo of this game. I would expect Portugal are able to create plenty of chances for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, although there may be a suggestion that some key players could be rested for the Semi Final.

Ronaldo could be one who has to start on the bench, but Portugal do have enough attacking talent to still bring too much to the table for New Zealand. I have to respect the heart the latter showed in their defeat to Mexico, but the latter missed a number of chances when New Zealand began to tire and I think Portugal will benefit from bringing in a few fresher legs for this final Group game.

It will likely be tight initially as New Zealand will have the energy to press Portugal early on, but that might change as the game wears on and eventually the European Champions may be able to highlight the difference of quality on the scoreboard.

This is a big Asian Handicap when you think Portugal don't need to win to go through to the Semi Final and will make changes. However I think there is enough here to think Portugal can score a couple of late goals to make this look more comfortable on the scoreboard and I will back them to win this one by a wide enough margin to cover the number.

Italy Under 21 v Germany Under 21 Pick: Watching Slovakia Under 21 demolish Sweden Under 21 on Thursday night has made things very clear for Italy Under 21 as they complete their final game in Group C. A shocking 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic Under 21 has left Italy with 3 points and they are well aware that they need a big win in this one to have any chance of making it through to the Semi Final.

A three goal margin of victory is the least Italy need to have any chance of making it through to the next Round. That will actually give them a chance to win this Group too, but the best Runners Up spot is currently occupied by a team in Slovakia who have a plus three goal difference as well as six points on the board.

There were some things to like in the Italy performance against Czech Republic, but defensively they were far below the standard they had set in the Qualifiers. Another performance like that will be seriously exposed by Germany Under 21 who have one foot into the Semi Final but still have to play with some caution.

Alongside Spain Under 21, Germany look to be the favourites to win this tournament as a team that has seen some players promoted to the full national squad has shown it has plenty of depth. Germany have looked very good going forward in their comfortable wins over Czech Republic and Denmark Under 21 in this Group.

That attacking play has a chance to shine in this one against an Italy team who have to come forward and take risks. Being patient can be important, but Italy have to score at least three goals and they have to win by a three goal margin to have any chance of making it through to the Semi Final.

It should mean Germany have more spaces to exploit on the counter attack and they have shown they can be clinical in front of goal. There have been some mistakes which will come from young players, but generally Germany have made the right decisions in the final third.

Italy have some talent of their own which will challenge a Germany defence which isn't as strong as back to back clean sheets may suggest. However I do think it is a difficult situation for them to manage and Germany won't be resting too many players knowing there is still some work to do to make it through to the Semi Final.

I won't be surprised to see goals in this one with the spaces that are likely to open up and backing at least three to be shared out looks the right situation. I am also expecting Germany to perhaps get the better of Italy for a third straight win in the Group as the latter leave the back door open in the search for goals the longer this game develops.

Sunday 25th June
Chile v Australia Pick: The final Group games at the Confederations Cup are to be played on Sunday and every team in Group B has a chance of making it through to the Semi Final. The team that looks to be the best placed of all four is Chile who know they can afford a one goal loss to Australia in their final Group game and that would be good enough to go through to the Semi Final regardless of what happens in the other game.

For Australia anything less than a win would mean they are exiting the tournament, but the 1-1 draw with Cameroon a few days ago leaves the side chasing a two goal margin of victory to guarantee their spot in the next Round. A win by a single goal margin would mean all eyes turn to the other game in the Group if Australia do want to make it through to the Semi Final.

There plenty of pleased faces after the Australia draw with Cameroon, but most will accept that they had to ride their luck at times. The chances created by Cameroon as well as the three goals conceded against Germany highlights the Australia weakness and they are now playing the team with perhaps the best attacking side in the tournament.

Even though Chile can afford a narrow loss, it is not the style for them to take a backward step and winning the Group is an important factor for them to avoid a potential Semi Final with Portugal. That should see Chile employ the high press and look to force Australia into making mistakes at the back as they did against Germany and Cameroon already in the Group.

It would be a big surprise if Australia don't make the mistakes which have seen them concede plenty of goals of late and I do think Chile are going to punish them. You have to still respect the way Australia go about their business with a 'never say die' attitude which makes them a threat on the field.

It is always unlikely that Australia will fall apart, but instead I would anticipate they try and push Chile all the way through the ninety minutes. However it could be difficult for them if they are chasing the game and leaving more gaps at the back that a pacy Chile side can exploit on the counter attack.

When these two nations met at the last World Cup, Chile recorded a 3-1 win over Australia and I can see the South American nation securing a goal late in the day in this one to finish off their opponents. I don't think Chile will step off the gas in a bid to win this Group and I am going to back them to beat Australia by at least a couple of goals on Sunday.

Germany v Cameroon Pick: After creating the best of the openings in their second game in the Group, Cameroon will be disappointed they only returned a 1-1 draw with Australia which puts them in a difficult position in the section. Now they have to win this game against Germany to have any chance of making it through to the Semi Final and it might be difficult for this young Cameroon team to erase the negative feeling that came out of the draw with Australia.

They struggled badly in the opening game against Chile and Cameroon will have to defend much better in this one.

This might not be a Germany side who are of the standard that won the World Cup in 2014, but they have shown character in the Confederations Cup and rode out a storm to draw 1-1 with Chile in the second game of the Group. That means a point will be enough to take them through to the Semi Final, although a young German side will be hoping to score the goals to overtake Chile in the Group and present themselves a Semi Final with Mexico rather than European Champions Portugal.

Germany will create some openings against Cameroon who will have to play with a positive attitude throughout this one, although they don't have to overcommit too early. A win will be enough for Cameroon as long as Chile can avoid defeat against Australia in the other game in the Group, but Cameroon have to show an all round better defensive performance than they have produced in this tournament.

There are goals to be had if Cameroon can get forward in numbers, but they will need to be far more clinical than they were against Australia when Cameroon allowed the three points to slip away. Cameroon can't be overawed by the name of the team in front of them, but this is a young team who can just struggle at the back to contain teams.

It wouldn't be a huge surprise to me if Cameroon can play their part in this one and get on the scoreboard. But I do think they may end up having to chase the game at some point and that is when Germany can punish them on the counter attack. The German team are learning how to deal with tournament pressure themselves, but they look in a strong position in the Group and do have the pace to make Cameroon pay late in the game.

While it may not be enough to move ahead of Chile in the Group, I think Germany do win this one by a couple of goals on the day.

Tuesday 27th June
England Under 21 v Germany Under 21 PickTwo old footballing rivals will meet in the first of the two Semi Final matches at the Under 21 European Championships in Poland. England Under 21 moved through to the last four by winning Group A, while Germany Under 21 had to settle for a nervy 'best Runners Up' spot despite losing their last game in the Group Stage.

There is plenty of belief in both camps in preparation for this Semi Final after some positive performances in the tournament. For England the impressive way they dealt with the emotion of the hosts and saw off Poland Under 21 3-0 in the final Group game to make their way into the last four was seen as real proof they are learning from their experiences.

Germany had looked the biggest challenger to Spain Under 21 after winning their opening two games in the Group, but they have to show they can bounce back from a poor showing in the 1-0 loss to Italy Under 21. That meant Germany had to finish second in their Group and there are some question marks about a squad that has seen several members help the full national team reach the Semi Final in the Confederations Cup.

It was the first time in the event when Germany looked to be lacking ideas and they were perhaps a little fortunate to come away with a one goal loss to the Italians. The side did not produce enough in the final third outside of some quality set piece delivery and I am not fooled by the theory that Germany were perhaps looking to avoid having to play Spain in a Semi Final.

Even if Germany had earned a draw and won the Group, they would have still played England and also helped knock out a big rival for the title here. It was simply a poor performance and Germany now have had a couple of days fewer to recover for this Semi Final against England who last played on Thursday.

They have shown enough in this tournament to think Germany will have a much better performance in this one than they did against Italy. However no one will be underestimating an England team who have conceded once in the tournament, albeit in a Group which was perhaps the weakest of the three in Poland.

Both teams will be looking to exploit their set pieces when they come around, but I think Germany may be more battle hardened of the two teams. England could also be without Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Redmond which would be a huge blow to them and means relying on a couple of starters that have not played a big part in the tournament.

The feeling is that Germany may just produce a little more quality in the final third of the two teams with goals expected to be the problem for England through this tournament. They may have scored five times in the three Group games, but England haven't come up against a team as strong as Germany who did beat them in a friendly a few months ago.

I think the German side can do that again and move into the Final here with a narrow victory on the day.

Spain Under 21 v Italy Under 21 Pick: These two nations have put a lot of stock in developing their youngsters with strong showings at the Under 21 European Championship throughout their history. At the moment it is the Spain Under 21 squad who have had the more recent successes, but Italy Under 21 came into this tournament with a minimum expectation of making the Semi Finals in Poland.

Both managers have spoken with plenty of respect of the other, although I wouldn't want to take too much notice of Luigi Di Biagio calling Spain the favourites to win it all. That might have had something to do with trying to shift the pressure onto Spain, although most won't deny the talent Spain have at their disposal.

Italy are not exactly lacking for talent themselves with a number of their squad hoping to push forward and challenge for World Cup Finals spots in Russia next summer for the Azzurri. However the overall performances in Poland have pointed to Spain as the team to beat.

The Spanish won a tough looking Group at a canter and the 3-1 win over Portugal Under 21 looks the kind of result that will inspire believers. However Italy can match that with the way they performed in the 1-0 win over Germany Under 21 on Saturday except the major difference is that Spain have yet to have a game like the one Italy did when brushed aside by the Czech Republic Under 21 team.

You have to respect the fact that Spain are much more rested than Italy having been able to rest the majority the entire first eleven in the 1-0 win over Serbia Under 21 on Friday. Compare that to Italy who have lost Andrea Conti and Domenico Berardi to suspension and had to really produce a strong effort to earn their place in the final four.

That energy could see Italy just drop off the pace in the second half of this one and Spain have the attacking threats to put this one to bed. Italy will be dangerous before that and have shown they can score goals with at least one in each of their three Group games so I won't be surprised if they played a part, but I think Spain will show off their attacking talent and move into the Semi Final behind a win in which three goals, at least, are shared out.

Wednesday 28th June
Portugal v Chile PickFor many people, the perfect Final at the Confederations Cup may have been Portugal versus Chile, but the Group Stage failures of the latter means they meet in the Semi Final instead. Whoever comes through the match is likely to be a strong favourite to go on and win the trophy this weekend, but picking a winner is not an easy decision.

It is Portugal who come into this Semi Final favoured to win thanks to topping their Group with seven points. The late goal scored by Mexico in a 2-2 draw was the only blemish for Portugal who beat Russia and New Zealand without conceding a single goal.

There is talent in the Portugal squad led by Cristiano Ronaldo who has scored two goals already at the Confederations Cup and is looking to add to what has been the most successful twelve months in an exceptional career. Winning a second major international tournament with Portugal after the season Ronaldo has had with Real Madrid will make him a shoo-in for the next Ballon d'Or.

His entire Portugal team are playing with some confidence and certainly will feel better than Chile who had to settle for 1-1 draws in their last couple of Group games to finish behind Germany in their own Group. They had been playing well in the tournament before the 1-1 draw with Australia a few days ago, although I am expecting much more from them in this Semi Final.

Chile should really have beaten Germany in their second Group game and this is a team with plenty of attacking talent. Facing a Portugal team who are missing Pepe through suspension should mean Chile have a chance to create chances and I think this is a dangerous team who have won plenty of Knock Out matches in the last two years to know what to do against Portugal.

Defensively they've had their issues which should be an area Portugal can expose too and I believe the oddsmakers may have underestimated the chance to see goals. Both teams have the kind of attacking talent that can expose defences that have not looked at their best through the tournament even when I factor in the consecutive Portugal clean sheets.

Now without Pepe, the likes of Eduardo Vargas, Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez have the skills and creativity to unlock the Portugal defence who do make mistakes. Fernando Santos may be a cautious manager that tries to keep the backdoor shut, but Chile have shown they have the pace and pressure football that can expose vulnerabilities in an opponent.

On the other hand, Portugal are a big team who can expose Chile from set pieces and the latter defended pretty poorly in their last two games which suggests Portugal will have their chances. Overall it does feel like a game where the two teams will be on the front foot as the other perhaps leaves some spaces to exploit and I think we may see at least three goals shared out.

Portugal are rightly favoured to win, but Chile are more than capable of producing an upset and seem to be under-rated on one bad performance. Tiredness could be a factor as Chile played a day after Portugal, and in a much tougher game, but my underlying feeling is we will see at least three goals shared out.

Thursday 29th June
Germany v Mexico Pick: The Confederations Cup is building a reputation as a major international tournament the year prior to the World Cup Finals, but that doesn't mean that some nations won't use the competition as a chance to progress the development of their players. That is certainly what Germany have done here by promoting a number of the Under 21 squad into the full national team picture while leaving some key players at home.

It has worked so far for Germany who won their Group ahead of Chile after beating Cameroon in their final Group game and seeing their rivals settle for a draw with Australia. That means a young Germany team are unbeaten in three games at the Confederations Cup, although they do look a little short to beat Mexico.

The latter are also unbeaten and finished with the same number of points as Germany in their own Group thanks to a come from behind win over the hosts Russia which confirmed their place in the Semi Final. Mexico have shown heart throughout the tournament which makes it hard to disregard their chances of upsetting Germany and the slight odds against prices on the Germans to win this one.

Coming from behind has become a feature of the Mexican performances as they did that twice to earn a draw with Portugal and came from 0-1 down to beat both New Zealand and Russia. This is a team who play with an extremely attacking philosophy and that has seen Mexico able to create chances against most teams they face, although there is a downside too.

The negative is that Mexico have left the back door open with some consistency under this current system and poor defensive shape helped Portugal, New Zealand and Russia all score goals. Those teams also created plenty more chances than the goals they scored and Germany will feel they can expose that even with the younger players they have.

Germany have scored in every game they've played, but also conceded in every game. The same can be said for Mexico and I am expecting this to be another entertaining Semi Final at the Confederations Cup.

Twelve years ago to the day Germany and Mexico met in the Third Place match at the Confederations Cup which was held in Germany and it was the hosts who won 4-3 in extra time. There was plenty of entertainment on offer that day and I am looking for Germany and Mexico to provide more for the fans in Russia as they battle for a place in the Confederations Cup Final on Sunday.

Friday 30th June
Germany Under 21 vs Spain Under 21 PickWhen the squads were announced for the Under 21 European Championship, most people would have looked at the quality in the Spain Under 21 squad and felt they were the favourites to win the tournament. Nothing that we have seen over the last couple of weeks would have changed that as Spain go for their fifth straight win in the competition.

The likes of Macedonia Under 21, Portugal Under 21, Serbia Under 21 were beaten in the Group before Spain beat Italy Under 21 in the Semi Final thanks to a Saul hat-trick. The Spanish attack has not disappointed and even when Spain are not playing at their very best, this is a team with plenty of quality in the final third to quickly turn things in their favour.

Only the second string Spain team were unable to score more than a single goal and the other three wins have all come by two goal margins at the least. Spain scored three times against Macedonia, Portugal and Italy and they will be backed by many to do enough to beat this Germany Under 21 team they meet in the Final.

You have to be impressed with the system Germany have put in place to make sure their national team has plenty of talent to replenish it each passing year. Despite a number of the eligible players of the Under 21 squad being taken to Russia for the Confederations Cup, Germany have shown the strength in depth to come through four difficult games and reach the Final.

That depth they have developed has been highlighted by a largely second string squad that was taken to the Confederations Cup reaching the Final of that competition too and the future looks bright for Germany. In saying that, this is a big test for this Under 21 squad of players when facing the attacking talents of the Spaniards.

Germany have done well to beat Czech Republic Under 21 and Denmark Under 21, but they have already tasted defeat once in this tournament when losing to Italy. They then drew 2-2 with England Under 21 before beating their old rivals on a penalty shoot out, but I do wonder if they've lost some momentum with consecutive games without a victory.

Tiredness could be a factor having played through the extra time period in the Semi Final, although Germany did produce some excellent football against England and should have won much earlier than they did. They can cause Spain some problems with a decent passing team that creates chances through the air for their centre-forwards and Germany will also be a threat at set pieces in this one.

However I do think the defence has shown some vulnerabilities through the tournament and now they are faced with an attacking unit that has pace, creativity and clinical finishing in their locker. That will likely make the difference and I think Spain will be too strong on the day and they look an interesting price to win in ninety minutes.

Spain have had a strong record against Germany in the competitive matches at Under 21 level and I think they are too strong on the day.

Sunday 2nd July
Portugal v Mexico PickThe Confederations Cup will come to an end this weekend as the final two matches at the 2017 tournament are played. First up is the Third Place Play Off which continues to be one of the more meaningless games in football at this tournament and at the World Cup.

I have never understood the motivation for the players who have just missed out on a place in the Final of those tournaments and how they are expected to pick themselves up in time for this one.

You can see the importance the managers may have attached to it when Cristiano Ronaldo has been released by Portugal.

Ronaldo had a decent tournament but he would have loved to have guided his nation to a second big tournament win in the space of twelve months. That wasn’t to be for Portugal at the Confederations Cup after the penalty shoot out heartache against Chile a few days ago, and I do expect some changes to be made to the starting eleven to keep them fresh.

The same will happen for Mexico who were beaten convincingly by Germany in their own Semi Final, but this is a team that is much more used to the changes made by the manager. There is a Gold Cup to prepare for so I am expecting Mexico to have the greater motivation levels, although I am not convinced about how good they actually are.

There are times when Mexico do look like a match for any team, but the step up in class at these major tournaments they enter have seen them beaten easily. Some of that is down to the system employed, but some of it also has to be attributed to the fact their players are simply not as good as the leading nations of international football can call upon.

Mexico’s system means there are gaps left at the back and Portugal still have the quality to expose those, even without talisman Ronaldo. There is some real talent in the younger players and there is every chance we can see a game similar to the one between these two nations in the Group Stage.

Plenty of opportunities were created that day and the layers are giving nothing away in terms of prices compared to that match a few days ago. Backing goals is a shortening price, but that may also be factoring in the freedom this Third Place Play Off produces which has seen the last four Third Place games at the Confederations Cup end with at least three goals shared out.

There have been at least four goals shared out at the last three editions of the tournament and Portugal and Mexico have already played out a 2-2 draw in the Group. It is always a risk backing as many as four goals to be scored in a game of football, especially with Ronaldo out, but these two nations can reach that number with the way Mexico will approach the game.

I am expecting chances at both ends and there is still enough quality in these teams to finish off those when they come about.

I am leaning towards a Portugal win, but they are the same price as they were with Ronaldo when facing Mexico in the Group. If that drifts out to around 2.50 then I think Portugal will be worth backing, but I would simply keep an eye on that over the coming days.

Chile v Germany Pick: The Final at the Confederations Cup will be decided by Chile and Germany this year.

Both teams have their moments of quality in the tournament, and both have shown vulnerability, which makes this a fascinating Final for the neutrals to enjoy.

The two teams remain unbeaten here in Russia though which will give them plenty of reason to be confident of their chances to win the tournament. However Chile have to find a way to snap a 3 game run of draws which means they have only beaten Cameroon here, while Germany’s sole failure to win here has come in the 1-1 draw against Chile.

The question is what can we read into the initial meeting between these teams which came at an important juncture in the Group Stage? Chile scored first and could have been out of sight by the time Germany equalised just before half time, and it was Chile who made much of the running in the second half but were unable to find the breakthrough.

The style that Chile employ means it is important for them to have an extra day of recover, especially after the exertions against Portugal in the Semi Final. They needed extra time and then penalties to beat the European Champions and that will have taken a physical and mental toll on the players who don’t get a lot of rest from the manager.

Those players will likely start this one against an inexperienced Germany side who have grown into the tournament. The 4-1 win over Mexico in the Semi Final means they have scored at least three times in 3 of their 4 games here, but there are still some questions defensively which means Germany have yet to keep a clean sheet.

That is going to be a concern for Germany heading into the Final, but Joachim Low can only be impressed with the way his players have handled being here without some of the bigger names that were given a rest. With the success at the Under 21 level too, Germany look a team that will be reloaded with talent and a threat to win the major international tournaments being played in the years ahead.

Joachim Low will likely make changes to the back line again, and has to be concerned with the attacking threat Chile do bring to the table. Tiredness could be a factor the longer the game goes, but I think Chile look a dangerously priced underdog in this one and may just have the tools to win this one.

However it does feel Germany will play a part in this one too and they have been scoring goals for fun. Scoring goals makes Germany a fun team to watch, especially in light of the problems at the back and I am anticipating these two teams can combine to hit three goals or more, which was just missed a few days ago.

I am perhaps leaning towards the Chile experience winning out on the day too, but all the signs point to another Germany high-scoring game and I will look for goals here. The last three Confederations Cup Finals have all produced at least three goals and I will look for this one to do the same.

MY PICKS: Sweden U21-England U21 Draw @ 3.75 Betfair Sportsbook (1 Unit)
Poland U21-Slovakia U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Russia Win to Nil @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Portugal U21-Serbia U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.95 Bet365 (2 Units)
Spain U21 - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Portugal @ 2.20 Bet365 (2 Units)
Chile - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.06 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany U21-Czech Republic U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Denmark U21-Italy U21 Both Teams to Score- NO @ 1.90 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.95 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Slovakia U21-England U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Sweden U21 @ 2.62 Sporting Bet (2 Units)
Serbia U21-Macedonia U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Portugal U21-Spain U21 Draw @ 3.80 Sporting Bet (1 Unit)
Portugal @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Mexico to Win and Both Teams to Score @ 4.00 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Czech Republic U21-Italy U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany U21-Denmark U21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.80 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Cameroon-Australia Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Germany-Chile Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.50 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
England Under 21 Win and Both Teams to Score @ 3.10 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Sweden Under 21 @ 2.40 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Portugal Under 21 - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.86 Bet365 (2 Units)
Spain Under 21 - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Mexico-Russia Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.10 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Portugal - 2 Asian Handicap @ 1.98 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany Under 21 @ 2.35 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Italy Under 21-Germany Under 21 Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.75 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Chile - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.00 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Germany - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Germany Under 21 @ 2.50 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Spain Under 21 Win and Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.70 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Portugal-Chile Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.25 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany-Mexico Over 2.5 Goals @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Spain Under 21 @ 2.00 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Portugal-Mexico Over 3.5 Goals @ 2.63 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Chile-Germany Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.15 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)

Tournaments Update: 17-15-2, + 8.95 Units (64 Units Staked, + 13.98% Yield)

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