EURO 2016, Group D: Defending champ in tough pool

Spain will be expected to make the knockout stages, but Turkey and Croatia can push it all the way. An upset is a real possibility and the Spanish will need to be at the top of their game to advance.

A Spain training session in progress. The team is looking for a hat-trick of EURO victories.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Group D: Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic, Turkey

Spain

Defending champion Spain is not the same dominant side it was a few years ago and its frailties were exposed during its humiliating exit at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Nevertheless, coach Vicente del Bosque has a young and technically gifted squad and the Spanish will be looking to complete a hat-trick of European Championships.

Iker Casillas has been ever-present between the sticks for over a decade now, but David de Gea’s emergence as one of the world’s best goalkeepers has put the legendary shot-stopper’s place at risk.

The defence more or less picks itself with Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique making the centre-back positions their own. Jordi Alba will be a definite starter at left-back with Atletico Madrid right-back Juanfran likely to start on the right.

Midfield is an area which has never been of any concern to Spain with an embarrassing array of talent available. Sergio Busquets is one of the first names on the team-sheet and Andres Iniesta follows soon after. The other midfield positions are up for grabs and will be filled by two of Koke, Thiago, David Silva and Cesc Fabregas.

Up front is where the Spanish may regret taking just two out and out strikers. Alvaro Morata is more than capable but a bit inexperienced at international level. Aritz Aduriz has had a phenomenal season with Athletic Bilbao but he will not be first choice. Pedro and Nolito provide great versatility across the forward line and look more likely to start ahead of Morata and Aduriz.

Croatia

There is no doubting the quality in this Croatia squad as it is well-stocked in every department. Despite leaving Dejan Lovren and Alen Halilovic behind, coach Ante Cacic has some really big players in his squad who could play a major role for their side at the EUROs.

Monaco goalkeeper Danijel Subasic is likely to be first choice behind an extremely experienced back-line of Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka, Ivan Strinic and the up and coming Tin Jedvaj.

Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic will take control of the Croatian midfield and should be ably supported by Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic. The precocious Ante Coric has also been included in the squad and this will be a very valuable experience for him.

Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic leads the forward line with Nikola Kalinic and Andrej Kramaric playing the role of the supporting cast.

Turkey

The ‘Emperor’ Fatih Terim is in charge of the Turkish national team for the third time in his career having led his country to the semi-finals of EURO 2008. But he has dispensed with the old guard and this is a new generation of Turkish football players who will be looking to put Turkey on the international football map again.

The experienced Mehmet Topal has been converted from a holding midfielder to a defender and he will partner Semih Kaya in the heart of the Turkish defence. Caner Erkin and Gokhan Gonul will take up the full-back positions and both are extremely attack-minded, looking to get up the flank at every opportunity.

There is ample quality in the midfield with Dortmund playmaker Nuri Sahin, Barcelona man Arda Turan and arguably the best free-kick taker in Europe, Hakan Calhanoglu. The 18-year-old midfielder Emre Mor is also one to keep an eye out for.

Burak Yilmaz has led the attack for the past few years, but his move to the Chinese Super League and the emergence of Besiktas striker Cenk Tosun has put the former’s starting place in doubt.

Czech Republic

Having come through a group consisting of the Netherlands and Turkey, and having qualified after winning that group, the Czech Republic still faces a mountain to climb in getting to the knockout stage. Coach Pavel Vrba has put together a decent side, but lacks top quality players.

Petr Cech in goal will no doubt provide a calm influence at the back and his communication with the defence will be vital. Centre-backs Michal Kadlec and Marek Suchy are likely to be joined by the marauding Theodor Gebre Selassie and Sheffield Wednesday’s Daniel Pudil. Veterans Tomas Rosicky and Jaroslav Plasil have been included to provide some knowhow to the younger players, but the main creative responsibility in midfield will fall to Vladimir Darida and Borek Dockal.

Tomas Necid is a handful upfront and he will compete with David Lafata to start as the main spearhead of the Czech Republic attack.

Conclusion

Spain will be expected to make the knockout stages, but Turkey and Croatia can push it all the way. An upset is a real possibility and the Spanish will need to be at the top of their game to advance. The Czechs have the weakest squad in the group, but will look to put in good displays to avoid being cannon fodder for the other teams.

The squads

SPAIN:

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas, David de Gea and Sergio Rico.

Defenders: Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Marc Bartra, Cesar Azpilicueta, Mikel San Jose, Juanfran and Hector Bellerin.

Midfielders: Bruno Soriano, Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Thiago Alcantara, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Koke.

Forwards: Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz, Pedro, Nolito and Lucas Vazquez.

CROATIA:

Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic, Lovre Kalinic and Ivan Vargic.

Defenders: Vedran Corluka, Darijo Srna, Domagoj Vida, Sime Vrsaljko, Gordon Schildenfeld, Ivan Strinic and Tin Jedvaj.

Midfielders: Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic, Milan Badelj, Ivan Perisic, Marko Rog and Ante Coric.

Forwards: Mario Mandzukic, Nikola Kalinic, Marko Pjaca, Andrej Kramaric and Duje Cop.

TURKEY:

Goalkeepers: Volkan Babacan, Onur Kivrak and Harun Tekin.

Defenders: Gokhan Gonul, Ahmet Calik, Sener Ozbayrakli, Hakan Balta, Mehmet Topal, Semih Kaya, Ismail Koybasi and Caner Erkin.

Midfielders: Emre Mor, Volkan Sen, Hakan Calhanoglu, Nuri Sahin, Oghuzan Ozyakup, Ozan Tufan, Selcuk Inan, Arda Turan and Olcay Sahan.

Forwards: Burak Yilmaz, Cenk Tosun and Yunus Malli.

CZECH REPUBLIC:

Goalkeepers: Petr Cech, Tomas Vaclik and Tomas Koubek.

Defenders: Theodor Gebre Selassie, Roman Hubnik, Pavel Kaderabek, Michal Kadlec, David Limbersky, Daniel Pudil, Tomas Sivok and Marek Suchy.

Midfielders: Vladimir Darida, Borek Dockal, Daniel Kolar, Ladislav Krejci, David Pavelka, Jaroslav Plasil, Tomas Rosicky, Jiri Skalak and Josef Sural.

Forwards: David Lafata, Tomas Necid and Milan Skoda.