By Niall Clarke

  • Euro 2016 Group D preview and predictions
  • Spain, Czech Republic, Croatia, Turkey

2012 Champions Spain will start their title defence at Euro 2016 in a very tough looking Group D that features Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey.

Spain

The Spanish have won the past two European Championships, but they enter Euro 2016 in somewhat a transition period. Some of the names that led Spain to their Euro 2008 and 2012 success have since retired or are past their peak. The World Cup shocker was an indication that the side needed some fresh blood, so Vicente del Bosque has integrated some new faces to work alongside some of the more experienced Internationals.

It is filling the shoes of the likes of Xavi, Carles Puyol and David Villa that remains the big challenge ahead of the tournament for Spain. They are still a side that is great in possession which makes them difficult to break down, but up front is where the problems lie. Villa and Fernando Torres were a world class strike partnership that you could rely on, but finding a replacement for them has been a difficult task. Diego Costa has struggled to adapt to the Spanish style whilst Alvaro Negredo or Roberto Soldado are good, but not on the level of Torres or Villa at their peak. Maybe Alvaro Morata or Aritz Aduriz can fill the void, but they may also struggle to connect with Andres Iniesta and the other creative players in midfield.

There is plenty of talent in this Spanish side and if one of the strikers click they will be contenders for the title. The World Cup performance has soured expectations but they are still one of the best sides in the world, and if they click then the sky is the limit.

Czech Republic

The Czech’s attacking style will make them an entertaining outfit to watch at Euro 2016, but their style and inconsistency could leave them exposed.

The mood at home is more that of pessimism (or realism as they see it) as the Czech Republic has been drawn into a difficult group with Spain, Croatia and Turkey. Pavel Vrba is known for sticking to his starting XI which has received some criticism by fans. Some believe that the team could do with some changes to ‘spice things up’.

Tomas Rosicky, despite hardly featuring for Arsenal, will be key to the Czech’s success in the tournament. He is one of their more creative players and has plenty of big match experience. Petr Cech will also be vital as their attacking style leaves gaps, so the form of the Arsenal number one will be crucial at the back.

With some good teams to face, it may be a disappointing tournament for the Czech Republic, but they are still a good side who are more than capable of getting out of this tough group. In order to advance the defence will have to be more than solid given their style of play.

Croatia

Croatia is a side with enough quality to make the knock-out stages, but the divide at home with the fans and the inexperience of the manager sours expectations.

Some Croatian fans believe that the side has enough quality to repeat the success they had in the 1998 World Cup where they finished third, but others are more negative, pointing towards corruption in their national game. It is a divide that is fuelled by the media which are in the two opposing corners themselves.

What Croatia must do is not let that dictate what happens on the field of play. There is enough individual talent in this squad to make it out of this group and maybe beyond the last 16. Luka Modric in particular is a key player as he pulls the strings from midfield. Ivan Rakitic is another creative player they will look to, and Mario Mandzukic is a handful for anyone.

But the problems may lie with the team not having an out and out defensive midfield, whilst their leader Darijo Srna is past his peak. If the creativity of Modric and Rakitic is not flowing then that could leave Mandzukic frustrated to the point where he becomes a detriment to the team rather than an asset.

Turkey

Boasting arguably their best side since the 2002 World Cup, Turkey enter Euro 2016 with the aim of surprising a few and making the latter stages of the tournament.

Fatih Terim’s side pulled quite the turnaround in qualifying to make it to France which may work in their favour. The mood is quiet optimism rather than expectation, so there is not much pressure on their shoulders.

Key players include the likes of Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu from midfield. Both players have been making waves across the continent over the past few years and remain the keys to unlocking defences. Burak Yilmaz will likely be the main source of goals up front for Turkey, but his selection is in doubt after injury setbacks all season.

The problems may lie, like many, with the defence. Terim’s decision to drop goalkeeper Volkan Demirel from the squad is a controversial one that could backfire. Serdar Aziz will be missing from the back line due to injury, and he featured heavily in qualifying.

Prediction

All in all this is a difficult group to predict as you can make a case for all four sides having a chance at progressing. Presuming Spain definitely make it through, that will leave Croatia and Turkey as the main contenders for second. Both teams usually perform in international competitions, but Croatia’s individual quality will see them into second whilst Turkey head to the third place playoff.

1st-Spain, 2nd-Croatia, 3rd-Turkey, 4th-Czech Republic

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