Picking apart Spain’s group

Given the unceremonious manner in which Spain were dumped out of the 2014 World Cup, it’s easy to forget that they are still European champions – back-to-back winners at that. As such, the onus will be on La Roja to make in three on the bounce at Euro 2016.

As top seeds, Vicente del Bosque watched on in Paris as his side were drawn alongside Croatia, Turkey and Czech Republic in Group D. Inscrutable as always, it was difficult to interpret what he made of the draw as a whole at the time.

What is clear, however, is that he is unwilling to underestimate what could potentially be some testing foes, most notably Croatia, who he quickly identified as the biggest obstacle to his side’s progression.

“We’ve drawn two teams who played in the same group as the Netherlands and eliminated them – Turkey and the Czech Republic – and then we have to face Croatia, who are very strong and are among the strongest teams for me at this tournament,” were the Coach’s immediate thoughts on the draw.

It’s no surprise the Croats have been singled out. Some of Croatia’s most talented players have called Spain home in recent seasons, and it’s for that reason alone that fans will know just how potentially testing of a match their clash with Ante Cacic’s side will be.

Ivan Rakitic has earned the praise of fans from both Barcelona and Sevilla in recent times, scoring a stunning, long-range strike against Deportivo La Coruna just hours before the draw to offer a pertinent reminder of his qualities.

Real Madrid’s midfield pairing of Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, meanwhile, are well known to supporters across Europe and, along with Rakitic, will form a quality midfield trio to rival Spain’s. Even Barca starlet Alen Halilovic, currently on loan at Sporting Gijon, has a chance of featuring in France, while former Atletico Madrid striker Mario Mandzukic is likely to lead the line.

The two countries last met in the group stage of Euro 2012, when La Roja toppled Croatia on their way to the title, courtesy of a late Jesus Navas goal. The Croats will certainly be formidable opponents, but it will be to Spain’s detriment should they ignore the other two sides in the group.

Czech Republic shared a group with Turkey, who qualified as the best third-placed nation. Given both shared a group with Netherlands, whom they defeated convincingly as Del Bosque eluded to earlier, neither can be taken lightly.

While Turkey failed to qualify in 2012, they did reach the semi-finals in 2008, and beat Croatia en route, they and are likely to bring an experienced side to France. Captain Arda Turan is the standout player for Fatih Terim’s outfit, having signed for Barca from Atleti in the summer, and will pose their main threat. Talents such as Hakan Calhanoglu, Burak Yilmaz, and Selcuk Inan are also likely to star in six months’ time.

Czech Republic will be Spain’s very first opponents in France. The pair last met in qualifying for Euro 2012, with Spain winning both home and away, back when David Villa tore through defences across Europe.

Captain Petr Cech is perhaps their most recognised player, and though they are far from the side they used to be, they topped their qualifying group. However, Czech boss Pavel Vbra is not as optimistic and admits Spain are likely favourites, not only for the group but the tournament.

“We definitely have a very difficult group. Spain are one of the favourites to win the tournament. Us, Turkey and the Croatians will probably be fighting for the other qualifying spot,” he mused.

Spain have been European football’s wrecking ball for the past decade. Regardless of who they draw, they will be out to win and do it in style.