Group D – Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey
Prediction: Spain, Croatia, Turkey, Czech Republic
The European Championships always throw up competitive group stages – even in the new, bulked-up format. And although group D is yet another competitive group, it is perhaps a group that would have looked much more like a group of death in the 2008 installment of the competition rather than this one.
Spain’s abysmal World Cup campaign in 2014 has forced Vicente Del Bosque into a bit of a rethink this year.
Big names like Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta remain in the squad for the defending champions, but they’re joined by new, yet on-form faces such as Nolito, Aritz Aduriz and Saul Niguez. Spain may have had a poor 2014 World Cup, but the defending European Champions will not be as poor this year as they were in 2014. They have a solid defence, their iconic crop of midfield passers, and two in-form strikers in Aritz Aduriz and Alvaro Morata. They’ll remain as fearsome as they have been for the last decade, and the domination of Spanish clubs over European club competition testifies to that.
Elsewhere in this group, Croatia, Turkey and the Czech Republic are undergoing their own squad refreshes.
Croatia are the favourites to progress in second along with Spain. They keep producing wonderful footballing talent, and for a nation as small as Croatia, it’s an impressive feat. Gone are the days of Davor Suker and Alen Boksic, Nico Kovac, and Ivica Olic, but replacing them in the current crop are the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Alen Halilovic of Barcelona, Mateo Kovacic and Luka Modric of Real Madrid, Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic of Inter Milan, and Mario Mandzukic of Juventus.
Not only are these players top talents, but they play for top clubs. The only worry is over the defence, one in which veterans Vedran Corluka and Darijo Srna will have to be at their best.
The Czech Republic and Turkey are the weaker two in the group. Interestingly, these two teams competed in the same qualifying group for the Euros. The Czechs won that group (Group A) and Turkey only managed to enter through the play-off route, knocking out The Netherlands in the process. Though the Czechs won the group, the Turks did win the most recent game between the two nations 2-0.
The Czechs are weaker than in previous tournaments, with the only household names in the team arguably Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech and outgoing Gunners midfielder, Thomas Rosicky.
Turkey, meanwhile, have an exciting crop of young talent coming through. This might be a tournament too early for the likes of Gokhan Tore, Hakan Calhanoglu, and Yunus Malli to really make their mark, but these are exciting players supplemented by the more experienced players like Arda Turan and Nuri Sahin. Their youth perhaps explains their relatively slow start to qualifying almost two seasons ago where they won only one of their first four games, but as their young players grew in experience, Turkey started to win. They’ll come into the tournament on form and in confidence.
Watch out for: a lot of new names, young stars making their mark, some genuinely big stars in world football.