The U21 European Championships kick off with hosts Czech Republic tackling dark-horse candidates Denmark in Prague on Wednesday.
Expectations are high for both sides, while both sets of fans will be praying their side can get off to a good start. Despite the hosts' home comforts, they're thoroughly outmatched across the park on paper. Can Jakub Dovalil pull off an upset to reshape the tournament?
Venue: Stadion Eden, Prague
Date: June 17, 2015
Time: 5 p.m. BST
Czech Republic Preview
The Czechs suffered a major blow ahead of the tournament as Watford owner Giampaolo Pozzo blocked Matej Vydra's call-up to the U21 side. The Watford Observer confirmed the news just over a week before the big kick-off.
That leaves them with one hell of a creativity problem, as Dovalil is now relying upon the...unrefined skill sets of Ladislav Krejci and Jiri Skalak to service the strikers. Vaclav Kadlec, the team's only actual central forward in the squad, is suspended for the opening match (along with Tomas Kalas).
Dovalil may even have preferred to play Kadlec just behind Vydra had both been available, but neither are available for this match, and Kadlec will still remain isolated even from the second game onward.
Expect the Lionets to line up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, and for the play to be a little stodgy. Dovalil has little central-midfield talent available to him, so the onus will fall upon right-back Pavel Kaderabek to bomb forward and force matters.
Denmark have several big players missing but have still managed to secure a ridiculously talented set of 23 players for the tournament. Andreas Cornelius and Jores Okore will be missed, but a resourceful Jess Thorup has managed to replace them in his XI.
Nicolai Brock-Madsen will spearhead an expected 4-3-3 formation with outrageous talent levels in central midfield. Bayern Munich's Pierre-Emil Hojbjerg will provide the thrust, Chelsea's Andreas Christensen will hold the fort and the wing duo of Viktor Fischer (Ajax) and Yussuf Poulsen (RB Leipzig) will cause all sorts of issues in the final third.
They will look to monopolise the ball, play out from the back and fashion clear-cut chances. Brock-Madsen's sheer size gives them a good Plan B if they need to resort to other measures to win.
Hojbjerg and Poulsen both picked up knocks in their final game with the seniors, but they should be OK to play.
Where The Game Will Be Won
If Christensen and his two central defenders can keep a lock on whoever the hosts play up front, Denmark should be able to nullify the Czechs as an attacking unit. The only threat surging forward will be right-back Kaderabek, as both wingers lack finesse/technique and the central-midfield unit is more workhorse than inventive.
It's a big test for whoever plays left-back for the Danes; Kaderabek, voted the Czech Premier League's best right-back (young or veteran) this season, is some force pushing on, and his deliveries, runs and stamina present a big problem.
The issue the hosts face in their own third is the sheer variety of their opponents' attacking capability. Hojbjerg will no doubt spark dangerous moves and fashion shooting chances, but there are three goalscorers in the forward line, and Brock-Madsen is a handy header of the ball should they resort to crossing.
In reality, every Czech player across the park has to absolutely nail their 90 minutes if they're to keep a clean sheet.
As much as a Czech Republic victory would set this tournament off on the right foot, Denmark are the superior side both on paper and on the pitch. The Lionets' shortcomings up front are going to be an issue; they're unlikely to be able to keep up with the Danes.
Czech Republic 0-3 Denmark