In the last two editions of the European Championships Spain were untouchable, creating a historic and record-breaking dynasty that was the envy of world football. A woeful World Cup in 2014 spelt the end of that dominance, but with Vicente Del Bosque still in charge and plotting the route to redemption they have to be considered as one of the favourites to lift the trophy and make it an incredible three in a row.
Del Bosque has certainly made some interesting selection decisions including the omission of Chelsea striker Diego Costa, but the team does come into this competition in good form having recovered from a slightly shaky start to qualifying to top their group, and here they have been placed in one of Euro 2016’s most intriguing pools of four.
As ever the Spaniards have an embarrassment of midfield riches, with Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets being veterans of past successes. This may just be the time for Thiago Alcantara to emerge on the international stage, while Alvaro Morata looks set to be their leading striker and will surely line up in their opening match against the Czech Republic.
This is a fascinating encounter as the Czech Republic are not a team accustomed to defending with a rock-solid mentality. They were the great entertainers in qualifying, with a lack of clean sheets made up for by some impressive attacking play which saw them top a difficult group and as a result Pavel Vrba’s side will be a competitive force at these finals.
Spain will be expected to begin with three points and indeed top Group D, but so-called experts are having a tough time in predicting who will join them in guaranteeing a place in the knockout stages. Czech Republic normally do well in the Euros, but Turkey and Croatia are also strong sides in their own right and they meet on Sunday hoping to gain an early advantage in the race for a top-two finish.
Turkey were in the same qualifying group as the Czech Republic as they eventually booked their place in France due to their status as the best third-placed side following a strong finish. They may not make the major tournaments as often as they should, but when they do they always seem to exceed expectations, reaching the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2008.
And once again their manager is Fatih Terim, who has been through it all with the Turkish national team. The current crop is made up largely of increasingly emerging talent, but their leading name is Barcelona star Arda Turan, while Buruk Yilmaz has a fine goalscoring record for his country.
Back at the scene of their greatest footballing triumph of 1998, Croatia come into the finals with high hopes after impressing during a qualifying campaign that was only threatened by the behaviour of their supporters. As always, they have some wonderful attacking talent in their team and a midfield to rival any at this tournament, so it would be a major failure if they were not to make it out of the group.
Their meeting with Turkey is another match where neither side will sit back and play with an excessive degree of caution. It is against the psyche of Croatian football to defend in numbers, so it should be an entertaining one in what is a repeat of a dramatic quarter-final of Euro 2008 that Turkey won on penalties.
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