England to win and over 2.5 goals in game - 15/8
Austria to win and Both Teams to Score - 7/2
Ukraine to win or draw - 11/8
It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football's coming home.
England will be out for revenge on Sunday for their World Cup semi-final defeat at the hands of Croatia when they step out onto the hallowed Wembley turf in their first European Championship match. (2pm BBC1)
On the face of it, taking on their conquerors from Russia looks a tough opening encounter, but it could be the perfect platform for which Gareth Southgate can build a winning formula and to return to Wembley for the final on July 11.
The pair met a few months later in return games in the Nations League with a drab 0-0 affair in Dubrovnik before England were more than value for a 2-1 win at Wembley. Both sides will largely line-up not too dissimilar to that semi-final in July 2018 but there is one notable difference in England’s ‘creative’ department. In Russia, a midfield three of Dele Alli, Jesse Lingard and Ashley Young will be replaced by a combination of Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish.
England had plenty of chances to win that game and book a spot in the final so with the addition of those three, plus the searing pace of Sterling, Sancho and Rashford, whichever combination Southgate goes for, should be enough to kickstart the campaign with a comfortable victory.
Despite having plenty of experience in the midfield, Croatia will miss the great Ivan Rakitic who retired from international football last September.
Team news will be all important. If Southgate plays two holding midfielders, of which there is a major chance with doubts about the backline in Harry Maguire’s absence, it will temper enthusiasm. But I feel attack is certainly the best form of defence in this game.
Croatia’s confidence is rocked with just two wins from their last nine matches, against Malta and Cyprus. Recent defeats to Sweden and Slovenia should also be a sign for Southgate’s side to approach the game on the front foot. England are rightly odds on at 8/13 and being supported and I fancy them to start well. To win by two goals or more (2-0, 3-1 etc) is an option at 7/4 but a better bet maybe England to win and three or more goals in the game at 15/8 while Harry Kane to score anytime (6/4 at Betfred) looks a big price for those that like the short ones.
Following on at 5pm we see North Macedonia in their first major tournament facing Austria (ITV). These sides met in qualifying with Austria running out comfortable winners in both games. Since then, North Macedonia have beaten Germany in a World Cup qualifier and scored in their last five games. This one could be entertaining, and goals look the order of the day, but Austria’s stronger squad could be the deciding factor. Austria to win and both teams to score at 7/2 looks a decent price.
Finally, at 8pm (ITV) Ukraine take on the Netherlands in Amsterdam. I wrote on the outright preview that I think the Dutch may struggle this tournament under Frank De Boer, with big players like Virgil van Dijk and now Donny van der Beek missing from their ranks. They have been well backed for this match on the back of wins against Latvia, Gibraltar and Georgia, but they were fortunate to draw with Scotland in a recent friendly and were firmly put in their place by Turkey in a World Cup qualifier in March.
Ukraine are a notoriously difficult team to break down and after a poor Nations League campaign last year are now unbeaten in their last seven games including holding France to a 1-1 draw. Their most famous footballing son Andriy Shevchenko is in his fifth year of managing the national side now that he has given up his quest to be a professional golfer and have a live forward threat in Ruslan Malinovsky alongside Roman Yaremchuk up top.
Malinovsky plies his trade in an attack minded Atalanta side in Serie A and he ended the season with five goals and four assists in his final eight games. Netherlands look over reliant on Memphis Depay and I see Ukraine getting at least a point from this game. Netherlands have been backed into 8/13 for the three points with Ukraine 11/2 but the 7/2 Ukraine Draw No Bet or 11/8 for them to win or draw are both viable wagers.