Group D contains reigning champions Spain hoping to bounce back from their embarrassing World Cup performance as well as potential dark horses Croatia and Turkey – both decent bets for different reasons. That leaves the Czech Republic, but they aren’t going to France to make up the numbers either. No one fears anyone in this group.
- Sunday 12th June: Turkey vs Croatia; Paris; 2pm (ITV)
- Monday 13th June: Spain vs Czech Republic; Toulouse; 2pm (ITV)
- Friday 17th June: Czech Republic vs Croatia; Saint-Etienne; 5pm (BBC)
- Friday 17th June: Spain vs Turkey; Nice; 8pm (ITV)
- Tuesday 21st June: Croatia vs Spain; Bordeaux; 8pm (ITV)
- Tuesday 21st June: Czech Republic vs Turkey; Lens; 8pm (ITV)
- World Ranking: 6th
- European Championships best: Winners (1964, 2008 & 2012)
- Previous European Championships played in: 9
- Manager: Vincente del Bosque
- Captain: Iker Casillas
How they qualified
After losing their second qualifying game in group C to Slovakia, Spain went on to dominate. They won all their remaining eight matches and didn’t concede another goal, meaning they finished top on 27 points. Only England and Austria ended qualifying with a higher tally, whilst only Romania conceded fewer goals. Is it a sign that Spain are back on the up?
Star Man – Andres Iniesta
He may now be 32 years old, but Andres Iniesta remains a world class player in the heart of the Spain midfield. Xavi, his partner in crime for club and country for so long, has retired from international football and moved to Qatar, but that hasn’t stopped Iniesta. The Player of the Tournament four years ago, he still possesses superb talent, with his vision and passing the best in the world. Already he is Spain’s most decorated footballer ever, being part of all three of their tournament wins in the last decade. In 2015-16 he captained Barcelona to their third La Liga title in four years, and is entering the tournament as only one of the confirmed starters in his nation’s team.
Spain are not as good as they were four or eight years ago. But neither are they as bad as they were at the 2014 World Cup. Providing there is no horror show again, Vincente del Bosque’s side should top the group, making their route to the semi-finals easier than many of their rivals. This could prove to be an advantage, but equally may provide them with a false sense of security, which England, their likely last four opponents, could exploit. But I think Spain will make the final, before losing to hosts France. Runners-up
- World Ranking: 29th
- European Championships best: Runners-up (1996)
- Previous European Championships played in: 5
- Manager: Pavel Vrba
- Captain: Tomas Rosicky
How they qualified
The Czechs won their first four games in Group A, including over the Netherlands to begin the Oranje’s slide. They stuttered slightly towards the end, losing two, but still qualified as group winners ahead of Iceland. In their final match, they put the final nail in the Netherlands’ coffin, defeating them again. The Czech Republic conceded 14 goals in qualifying, more than anyone else at the tournament.
Star Man – Petr Cech
Given that statistic, it is surprising that Petr Cech is his country’s star player, but the Arsenal goalkeeper remains a safe pair hands between the sticks, with the majority of goals conceded being the fault of those in-front of him. The Czech Republic’s attacking style of play leaves them very open at the back, meaning Cech will need to be at his best to counteract this. He has more caps (121) than anyone else in his nation’s history, and has been their number one for over 10 years. But don’t think though that at 34 he’s losing it – that’s a goalkeeper’s prime, shown by the fact Cech picked up the Premier League golden glove award for a record fourth time in 2015-16 after getting 16 clean sheets. Euro 2016 is likely to be his last tournament though, so he’ll want to bow out on a high.
It seems harsh to rule out the Czech Republic to get out of this group because they do possess genuine quality in their side, but unfortunately for them, the draw has not been kind to them. I wouldn’t rule them out, but they are my bet to finish bottom of this group due to their leaky defence. Group stages
- World Ranking: 18th
- European Championships best: Semi-finals (2008)
- Previous European Championships played in: 3
- Manager: Faith Terim
- Captain: Arda Turan
How they qualified
Turkey were actually in the same group as the Czech Republic in qualifying, and even beat them 2-0 in the penultimate round of matches. However, that victory nor beating Iceland 1-0 in the final game was not enough to get into the top two. But Turkey were not forced through the play-offs. With 16 points, they ranked as the best third placed team, earning the final automatic spot in France.
Star Man – Arda Turan
Despite a difficult first season at Barcelona that didn’t begin until January due to the club’s transfer ban, Arda Turan remains one of the best wingers in Europe. Why else would the Spanish giants have bought him? He has long been the star of Turkey’s side, having earned 90 caps for his country. These include appearances at Euro 2008, when his side reached the semi-finals, meaning his experience will prove crucial in this relatively young team, least of all because Turan wears the captain’s armband. The 29 year old got two goals and three assists in qualifying, meaning he contributed to over a third of Turkey’s 14 goals – more than any other player in the squad.
Prior to losing to England in a friendly a couple of weeks ago, Turkey had gone on a 13 match unbeaten streak dating back to November 2014, so underestimate them at your peril. As well as Turan, they have the best free-kick taker in Europe Hakan Calhonoglu, whilst Burak Yilmaz is clinical upfront. However, it’s unlikely they’ll beat Spain to top spot and second would bring Belgium or Italy, whilst third would probably bring France. So it’s the un-luck of the draw for the Turks. Round of 16
- World Ranking: 27th
- European Championships best: Quarter-finals (1996 & 2008)
- Previous European Championships played in: 4
- Manager: Ante Cacic
- Captain: Darijo Srna
How they qualified
Croatia made a strong start to their qualifying campaign in Group H, picking up four wins and two draws from their first six games. But following a 0-0 draw to Azerbaijan and 2-0 loss to Norway, manager Niko Kovac was sacked (perhaps harshly) and replaced by Ante Cacic. They would go on to win their remaining two fixtures, qualifying in second place behind Italy. They were deducted one point for racist behaviour against the Italians, but it didn’t affect their position.
Star Man – Luka Modric
Luka Modric comes into the tournament on a high, having just won the Champions League with Real Madrid. One of the most creative players at the tournament, the 30 year old pulls all the strings in the Croatia midfield, with most of their attacks beginning with him. He plays a deeper position for country than he does for club due to Croatia’s lack of a true holding midfielder, which often means you don’t realise his contribution. But whether it’s pinging balls out wide to Ivan Perisic or over the top to Mario Mandzukic, Modric is key to his nation’s hopes at the Euros.
On paper, Croatia are actually a very strong side, with Modric, Rakitic, Mandzukic and Perisic all enjoying good seasons. But after the aforementioned somewhat rash managerial change last Autumn, the mood and unity in the camp is low, so it’s hard to predict what to expect. They should get out of the group, but like Turkey, will face a tough draw in the knockout stage. Round of 16
- Czech Republic