Euro 2016 Group D – Can Czechs secure unlikely progress?

Among the most memorable games of Euro 2008 was the meeting between the Czech Republic and Turkey in the final round of group matches. The Czechs only needed a point to secure a place in the next round and appeared to be cruising at 2-0 up with only minutes to go, only for an incredible three-goal comeback from Turkey to send them home feeling shell-shocked.

This time around the Turkish hopes are looking exceedingly grim after two defeats, the last of which coming in rather punishing fashion against holders Spain on Friday. It was a match that highlighted their problems at the back, with makeshift central defender Mehmet Topal badly at fault for at least one of the goals.

With a goal difference that currently stands at minus four, it is going to have to take another superhuman effort from Fatih Terim’s charges to even stand a chance of going through as one of the best third placed sides. Judging by what they have shown so far, it looks a very tall order and their supporters seem resigned to their fate, dishing out unfavourable treatment to star name Arda Turan.

Prospects also looked decidedly bleak for the Czech Republic after they went two goals down to a dominant Croatia, but somehow against all the odds they managed to pull the game level and put them potentially a win away from a place in the last 16.

Four days on it is still unbelievable that they managed to come away with anything from Saint-Etienne, given the extent of their inferiority. But credit must go to the way in which they battled back from a seemingly hopeless position, with manager Pavel Vrba’s substitutions making a huge difference.

Three points should be enough to go through, but anything less would mean an early exit, so there is little room for error here as far as the Czechs are concerned. Elsewhere in Group D, the battle for top spot sees Spain aim for the point they need against Croatia, who must still be wondering how they let Friday’s match slip through their fingers.

The behaviour of a group of spectators associated with them was certainly far from ideal, as a group of hooligans devoted to committing wrongdoing threw flairs on to the playing surface and delayed proceedings for a few minutes with the score at 2-1. It was a massive shame that spoilt a strong display from the team, who were also perhaps disrupted by the substitution of Luka Modric.

Despite the result there were still plenty of positives to take as they looked a creative and efficient attacking unit, with Modric pulling the strings from deep and Barcelona star Ivan Rakitic always getting into threatening positions. They will provide the biggest test so far for Spain.

Many plaudits went the way of the Spaniards following their silky showing against Turkey, brushing aside their opponents with their classic smothering technique. Alvaro Morata grabbed two goals and made some giant strides towards repaying the faith shown in him by boss Vicente Del Bosque.

It has been a positive start on the road to redemption following their dreadful 2014 World Cup, but Spain will be aware that they will face much better teams than Turkey in their bid to be champions of Europe for the third time in a row. It all starts against Croatia.

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