England begin their 2019 UEFA Under-21 Euro 2019 campaign against France on Tuesday at the Orogel Stadium in Cesena, Italy.
The result of this match between two of the tournament's front-runners is likely to play a substantial role in deciding who finishes atop Group C—which also includes Croatia and Romania.
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Aidy Boothroyd's England made it to the semi-finals of this tournament in Poland two years ago and have featured in the last six editions. France, on the other hand, have qualified for the first time since 2006.
France bring a talented squad to Italy and San Marino, and they can make a swift statement by beating England in the curtain-raiser.
Date: Tuesday, June 18
Time: 8 p.m. BST/3 p.m. BST
Venue: Orogel Stadium, Cesena, Italy
England to Beat Bleus, Retain Top-Dog Status
It's difficult to separate these two sides apart when comparing their squads on paper, each of which comprises a wealth of young talents playing in one of Europe's top five divisions.
All but two of France's squad played for a top-tier team in 2018-19 (both goalkeepers). To contrast, eight in Boothroyd's 23-man squad played in the Championship, while Reiss Nelson (Arsenal) and Jake Clarke-Salter (Chelsea) were on loan at Hoffenheim in the Bundesliga and Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie, respectively.
England haven't won the Under-21 Euros since clinching back-to-back titles in 1982 and '84 (their only wins to date). However, English youth football has excelled in recent years, and many of those players in the squad were included in either the under-17 or under-20 FIFA World Cup wins of 2017.
BT Sport recently looked at the high volume of budding English players making their breaks at top-level clubs before succeeding with their country:
Football on BT Sport @btsportfootball
"We've had golden generations... But never has there been a group of teenagers making their name in the same timeframe." The year 2️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ could prove to be very special for English football 🙌 🎥 Young Lions: Boys of 2000 📺 BT Sport 1 HD ⏰ Saturday, 6pm https://t.co/rJMCT3FBiN
Former Tottenham Hotspur team-mates Jermaine Jenas and David Bentley discussed on BBC 5 Live Sport how the international youth system used to be considered a burden by young players:
BBC 5 Live Sport @5liveSport
'The more Under-21 games you played, the further away you got!' David Bentley on: ⚽️ Gareth Southhgate's expert use of England's Under-21s ⚽️ Whether Delle Ali is in danger of burnout ⚽️ And why @jjenas8 is "a fine specimen of a man" 😂 📻📲: https://t.co/0kUniWPgQm https://t.co/5C5Zh5Wf4t
The landscape has changed drastically in recent years, however. That also looks to be the case for France, who have returned to this competition after 13 years of failed attempts at qualifying.
At the foundation of coach Sylvain Ripoll's side is a lineup of defensive riches, including RB Leipzig's 20-year-old centre-backs Dayot Upamecano and Ibrahima Konate.
Statman Dave recently hailed the former as a particular gem for the Bundesliga outfit this past season:
Fellow defenders Malang Sarr, 20, and Moussa Niakhate, 23, are also settled starters at Nice and Mainz, respectively.
France's midfield is also sprinkled with quality thanks to Lyon's playmaker Houssem Aouar, as well as Celtic's Olivier Ntcham and Jeff Reine-Adelaide of Angers.
As if that wasn't enough, they also boast a capable finisher in Moussa Dembele, per French football writer Rich Allen:
The Young Lions are level with Spain as joint 4-1 favourites to win the competition, per Oddschecker.com, though France and Italy are at similar odds.
Their defence may not have the same depth as France, but Manchester City ace Phil Foden is an example of the kind of rare asset beginning to make their mark, per Match of the Day:
Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham will be confident after he scored 26 times in all competitions on loan at Aston Villa last term. The Leicester City midfield trio of James Maddison, Hamza Choudhury and Harvey Barnes will also be crucial despite having just 14 under-21 caps between them.
England lost 2-1 to Germany in March to snap a run of 19 games unbeaten (beginning in September 2017). However, France have won only once in their last six outings and look like they're lacking the same sense of unity in their camp.
Prediction: England to beat France 2-1