Defending champions Spain face a tough group-stage battle at the Euro 2016 as none of their opponents – Turkey, Croatia and Czech Republic are underdog teams.
If Vincente del Bosque’s men want to progress through from this group, they must choose the 4231 formation instead of the 433 or 4141, otherwise their strong rivals may make use of La Roja’s weakness in midfield defense and put the two-time winners in dangerous situation.
Spain suffered big blows at the 2014 World Cup after making an unprecedented record of clinching three major titles consecutively from 2008 to 2012. Coach Bosque seemed to learn a lesson from that failure and picked a hopeful squad blent with new blood and experiences to defend their reputation as football giants in the upcoming Euro in France.
Although crucial veterans like Xavi Hernandez, David Villa and Xabi Alonso have retired from the team, Spain still boast of the strongest midfield in the world as they have Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, David Silva, Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Nolito.
In defense, Spain has Jordi Alba, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos and Jurafran, and Iker Casillas may compete for a starting place with David De Gea on goal. On paper Spain is the best among all the 24 teams with respect to the midfield and defence line.
Upfront, Bosque finally dropped Diego Costa, who hasn’t got used to Spain’s tiki-taka system and lacks good combination with teammates, which might be a sensible decision as Alvaro Morata, Aritz Aduriz and Pedro Rodriguez are better choices.
However, Spain has an apparent problem in central midfield defense if Bosque adopt the 433 system like Barcelona, as Spain lack a defensive midfielder who has physical advantage, Busquets would be exposed to the opposite attack if no one support him in central midfield, so a 4231 formation is preferred as Fabregas, Thiago or Koke can back Busquets in that important position, and add greater stability and bigger advantage to La Roja Furia’s midfielder.
If Bosque basically uses the 4231 system and leaves 433 or 442 as Plan B when players with better goal-scoring skill are needed, Spain will likely to prevail in Group D, and may go very far in the defending campaign.
The other three teams are very close in overall strength, but a reloaded Turkey may have some edges over a Croatia side that lacks a convincing coach and an unbalanced Czech team with defending problems.
Fatih Terim has forged a new Turkey side that can compete with top teams with some good organization, solid collective defense and skillful attackers. Barcelona midfielder Arda Turan is the team leader and Selcuk Inan, Ozan Tufan, Bayer Leverkusen’s Hakan Calhanoglu and Borussia Dortmund’s Sahin are all excellent midfieders. With Turan pulling the strings, Turkey may overwhelm Czech and Croatia in the midfield with better combination and defending ability.
Turkey’s back-line is also good, Sener Ozbayrakli, Hakan Balta, Semih Kaya and Gokhan Gonul, together with excellent keeper Volkan Babacan, will provide solid defense to contain strong rivals.
Up front, Turkey will depend on Cenk Tosun of Besiktas, or hitman Burak Yilmaz of Chinese club Beijing Guoan to scoring goals.
Croatia has a star-studded midfield led by Real Madrid play-maker Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic are also very skillful. But the Croatians are weak in defence with a 4141 system.
In the attack, Croatia has Mario Mandzukic, Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic and Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric, who are good enough to score goals.
However, Croatia seemed to have a shaky form in the qualifying stage and was defensively unsteady. Furthermore, Croatia’s new boss Ante Cacic, who took over Niko Kovac, is under question from the Croatian fans and media as the 62-year-old former TV and radio repairman lacks major coaching success. If Cacic could not bring unity and sensible tactics to the side, Croatia may not display their quality in Group D.
The Czechs have become an attractive side under coach Pavel Vrba with an attacking style, but they are not so sharp in the finishing and the back-line is not so good. Czech Republic topped a group containing the Netherlands, Turkey and Iceland in the qualifying round, but has a poor defensive record by conceding 14 goals.
Arsenal’s veteran Tomas Rosicky leads the midfield with Borek Dockal, who scored 4 goals in the qualifying phase, and Petr Cech is the key player to protect the final defense line.
Czech Republic can play some quick attacks from the midfield with Vladimir Darida, Jaroslav Plasil assit Rosicky and Dockal, but front-man David Lafata from Sparta Prague has yet to prove his talents on goal.
In all, Spain and Turkey have better chances to qualify from the toughest group, but Croatia and Czech Republic both have enough power to fight against the stronger sides, which makes the situation of the group very complex.