Spain – Croatia – Turkey – Czech Republic
Spain lost half their eight games following the shock exit in Brazil but three of those were friendlies and the ‘old’ Spain has shown itself since then. They’ve conceded only twice in their nine games leading up to the pre-tournament friendlies while remaining unbeaten.
The defence looks very strong with Vicente del Bosque looking like he’ll finally promote David de Gea to start and three of the back four settled in Serigo Ramos, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba. Del Bosque’s main problem is how he’ll accommodate the embarrassment of riches available to him in midfield.
However, they look light in attack and while the midfield may dominate matches they are unlikely to score lots of goals – this is a team that has conceded just once in their last nine European Championship matches and that is likely to be their strength again.
There won’t be any easy matches in this group though, with all four teams ranked in our top 13 of the 24 sides here. The Czech Republic won their qualifying group but they did so despite failing to keep a single clean sheet and with comfortably the worst defensive record of all teams at the Finals. In all matches leading up to the pre-tournament friendlies they’ve gone 19 games without a clean sheet and look the most vulnerable of the teams in this group. They bring an experienced squad with them but it lacks quality and of their six players based in Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues three are 34 or over.
Turkey were in the same qualifying group as the Czechs but only got here as the best of all third-placed finishers. After taking just one point from their opening three games that represented an excellent recovery though, and they were unbeaten in 13 games with 10 wins prior to their warm-up defeat to England when both teams were missing key players.
This is the first major tournament they’ve qualified for since Euro 2008 and that is reflected in a youthful squad as Fatih Terim has turned to a new generation to take them forward. They reached the semis in 2008, when Terim was in a previous spell in charge, and this team certainly has an unknown quality to them that could trouble other sides. With the quality of Arda Turan and Hakan Calhanoglu on the wings they should certainly offer a threat going forward and look potential dark horses.
However, we just prefer Croatia as the team who could cause a big surprise in this tournament. A midfield featuring Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic should be a threat to anyone and they also have dangerous attackers in Mario Mandzukic and Nikola Kalinic as well as some talented youngsters such as Barcelona starlet Alen Halilovic. They finished behind Italy in qualifying but were unbeaten in their two meetings with the Azzurri and overall both scored more and conceded fewer than the Italians.
Given the quality in this group Spain look too short to win it at a best price of 1.67 and should be avoided. Particularly given their opener, against the Czech Republic, is their easiest match and if they slip up there then they’ll find the group very hard to win. Several members of their squad will be late joining up due to the all-Spanish Champions League Final and they’ve won none of their openers at the last three major tournaments so they could be vulnerable.