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Below is the fifth installment of a Euro 2016 column titled “Footé in France” by O-Posts mainstay and top football writer, Adam Gray.
The pressure may be on manager Vincent Del Bosque to deliver after Spain were eliminated from the 2014 World Cup at the group stage, but little could be derived from their friendly defeat to Georgia. Del Bosque was understandably relaxed given the way his team dominated, but couldn’t find a way through the Georgian’s orderly defence.
That problem is hoped to be solved by Alvaro Morata, the Juventus striker who was kept on the bench in Getafe as he recovers from a hamstring injury but will surely add potent finishing to the slick creativity provided by Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta and David Silva.
The 35 year old Aritz Aduriz may also have designs on one last shot at glory having scored 33 goals in his role as a predatory centre-forward with Atheltic Bilbao.
The supreme talent still running through La Roja makes them favourites to not only pass through their group but to threaten the latter stages of a tournament they have won the past two times, in 2008 and in 2012. Spain find themselves in Group D in France, together with Turkey, Croatia and Czech Republic.
It is one of the tougher groups in the tournament but Spain should have enough quality to sail through comfortably. But who will follow them?
Ante Cacic’s side revolves around a gifted midfield that is dictated by the vision of Luka Modric and the driving runs of Ivan Rakitic. Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic will join them to make a three and is a relentless runner that powers from box to box.
All three players are not necessarily defensive-minded which means Vedran Corluka, formerly of Spurs, and Dynamo Kiev’s Domagoj Vida will not be offered much protection. Whilst both are combative and good on the ball, neither centre-half is ripe with pace so expect a defensive line that sits deep with Modric the one dropping back to carry the ball forward and initiate attacks.
Modric’s habit of moving deeper will allow the full backs, captain Darijo Srna and Sassuolo’s Sime Vrsaljko, to move forward and join attacks. Vrsaljko has been excellent at getting forward to deliver crosses in Serie A but Srna, by far the most experienced member of the squad at the age of 34, may struggle to do that as effectively given his age. The Shakhtar Donetsk man is still crucial to the cause as a leader and organiser however and Cacic simply can’t replace his influence on the pitch.
With plenty of supply from midfield, and out wide where Marko Pjaca, a strong, direct winger who has caught the eye of Benfica and both Milan clubs, and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic will be dangers if they can isolate their full-backs, Mario Mandzukic will be on hand to put the chances away when supplied. The Juventus striker works incredibly hard and runs the channels to create space for the likes of Rakitic and Brozovic to run into, while Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic is also an able deputy in front of goal if required.
Croatia’s line up is a fluent and threatening mix on paper but much depends on how much protection Cacic’s defence gets. If they remain tight and allow the guile of Rakitic and Modric to dictate the ball, the Vatreni will have the quality to take them into the latter stages of the tournament.
The Turks have already shown they can beat Czech Republic in qualifying and with Barcelona’s Arda Turan and Bayer Leverkusen’s set-piece expert Hakan Calhanoglu supporting the striker from wide attacking areas, they have the chance of causing many problems.
Manager Fatih Terim likes his side to move the ball quickly with the emphasis on keeping possession, which Galatasaray captain Inan and Fenerbache’s Ozan Tufan can do comfortably in midfield.
Ahead of them is Oghuzan Ozyakup, the ex-Arsenal attacking midfielder who was this year instrumental in Besiktas’s title winning campaign, scoring 10 goals. Ozyakup is a gifted dribbler and anticipates the movement of the ball incredibly well. In Turkey, he has been likened to Zinedine Zidane and can open up defences with a moment of magic so the rest of Group D will have to be on alert.
Terim faces a dilemma on who Ozyakup will be supplying however, with Cenk Tosun inexperienced and Burak Yilmaz, the top scorer in the squad with 20 international goals, currently struggling with an injury. He may have to opt for Yunus Malli of Mainz, who is more at home playing as an attacking midfielder, as a false nine.
Calhanoglu may even get the nod in that position in order to find room for Mehmet Topal, nicknamed “Spiderman” for the long legs he uses to stretch and win the ball, whose experience is likely to be invaluable around the squad. Nuri Sahin of Borussia Dortmund is also a gifted user of the ball in a squad that has individual talent throughout.
It will be up to Terim, whom they call “The Emperor”, to get those individuals gelled as a team and to have them playing as fluidly as they did in their narrow friendly defeat to England in Manchester.
The omissions of goalkeeper Volkan Demirel and defender Omer Toprak will help that cause, although Toprak’s absence will leave a gap in defence that Topal may have to fill alongside the long-serving Hakan Balta.
Again, it is a defence not blessed with an abundance of pace but will be expectedly resilient and imposing. Turkey are likely to be rigid, determined and full of fighting spirit.
Pavel Vrba’s team are likely to fit right in at a tournament where organisation and defensive solidity will be key. With Tomas Sivok and Vaclav Kadlec at centre-half they are a team again not boasting pace at the back but both are capable defenders and will be assured by the presence of the experienced Petr Cech in goal.
This is the 34 year old’s fourth European Championships and having won the Premier League golden glove with Arsenal last season he goes into France in top form.
The defence will be protected by Vladimir Darida, a non-stop runner who will constantly go hunting for the ball, and Jaroslav Plasil, who likes to get on the ball and orchestrate moves. The energy of that pair, especially in Darida, will be vital if Tomas Rosicky is to be effective from his home of attacking midfield.
“Little Mozart” as he is known, in a nod to his creative skills, has played just once for Arsenal in an injury-disrupted season but Vrba’s system hinges on his ability to drop between the lines and carve out chances for his forwards.
Goals from those forwards however will be a problem, with Thomas Necid, 11 goals from 39 caps, likely to start as the central striker whilst on a goalless run that stems back to February. Necid is a threat aerially but slow on the ground, making him not a natural fit to Rosicky’s game.
It is vital then that Czech’s provide their threat from the wings with driving full-backs and incisive attacking wide-players. Theodor Gabre Selassie, possessing the stamina of his Ethiopian namesake, will offer attacking intent from right back while David Limbersky will get forward from the left.
Vrba will make sure though that such attacking licence is harnessed however as he wishes not to leave them too open in what will be an extremely competitive group. Spain are favourites to go through, but with the top three spaces open who knows who will follow them.
Full of individual talent but with organisation and defensive stability key, Group D may be the tightest of the lot.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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