Spain – Ollie Lund
World Ranking: 6th
Best Euro Finish: Champions (1964, 2008, 2012)
The holders Spain go into the tournament as one of the favourites. A surprise defeat against Slovakia aside, they were superb in qualifying – picking up nine wins and eight clean sheets. The squad oozes quality with the likes of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique in defence and Andres Iniesta and David Silva in midfield. Despite this, the collapse at Brazil 2014 has been branded into the Spanish collective memory, particularly that 5-1 defeat
against the Netherlands. Furthermore, they still lack a world-class striker, and with top scorer in qualifying Paco Alcacer dropped for France, they will rely on 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz and Alvaro Morata as their only two natural centre forwards. It would be foolish to discount the Spanish but they will not exude the total dominance of four years ago and are a way off the extraordinary outfit that won three major tournaments in a row.
Czech Republic – Max Wright
World Ranking: 30th
Best Euro Finish: Runners-up (1996)
An impressive qualifying campaign saw the Czech Republic top the group that featured World Cup semi-finalists in the Netherlands – their 3-2 win in Amsterdam being the highlight of their run. However, two wins in their five friendlies since qualifying ended, one of which was over Malta, shows that the Czechs come into the tournament with a lot to prove. A tough group featuring holders Spain, Croatia and Turkey will be a challenge for this experienced team, which features Premier League clean sheet record holder Petr Cech and captain Tomas Rosicky. They have a relatively old squad, with many first-choice players over 30, so this is a last chance for many of the players at an international tournament – something which may give them extra incentive to succeed. Overall, despite their top level experience, given their recent form and lack of World Class players this Czech team will have a tough time escaping Group D, let alone challenging for the trophy.
Turkey – Owain Evans
World Ranking: 18th
Best Euro Finish: Semi-final (2008)
Eight years ago, Turkey were the surprise package – a side that exceeded expectations in making the semi finals of the Euros. Whilst they certainly don’t go into this tournament with any expectations of making it that far, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to write them out of doing just that. This is a Turkish side whose only loss since November 2014 was a cheap 2-1 friendly defeat away to England. In that time span, they have dismantled the Netherlands in a dominant 3-0 home victory. They have travelled to Prague and put two goals past the hosts, whilst not conceding. It’s a side primarily composed of players who ply their trade domestically, and together they can pose a challenge for almost any side in this tournament.
Croatia – Rory Marcham
World Ranking: 27th
Best Euro Finish: Quarter-final (1996, 2008)
Croatia at first glance could be see as another throw away team, destined to lose a bigger side in the quarter finals, however when you dig deeper you realise that this is a side that could cause an upset. A dark horse, if you excuse the cliché. How many other sides in the tournament can boast a starting midfield made up of two Real Madrid players (Kovačić and Modrić) and one from Barcelona (Rakitić)? All of whom are champions league
winners. Whilst they may be somewhat weaker in other areas, namely their defence, which includes ex-Spurs defender Vedran Ćorluka, if they were to make it out of a very competitive Group D, it would not be inconceivable to see them go the whole way and achieve a feat similar to Greece twelve years ago. Keep an eye out for attacking midfielder Ante Ćorić, one of the youngest players at the tournament, aged 19, Ćorić has broken into the national team without featuring in qualifying and is being tipped for great things.