With Groups A, B and C covered, we now move onto Group D and the obvious group of death. With Turkey, Croatia, Spain and Czech Republic, it’s a group full of quality teams. The Czech’s beat Holland twice and qualified above Turkey, who managed to secure the best 3rd placed side in the Qualification period to get an automatic berth. Spain head the group, in their first major tournament since their failure at the 2014 World Cup. Croatia complete it, with a team full of quality players. It’s anyone’s group!
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subasic (Monaco), Lovre Kalinic (Hajduk Split), Ivan Vargic (Rijeka)
Defenders: Vedran Corluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Sime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), Ivan Strinic (Napoli), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)
Midfielders: Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic (both Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona), Marcelo Brozovic, Ivan Perisic (both Inter Milan), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marko Rog, Ante Coric (both Dinamo Zagreb)
Forwards: Mario Mandzukic (Juventus), Nikola Kalinic (Fiorentina), Marko Pjaca, Duje Cop (both Dinamo Zagreb), Andrej Kramaric (Hoffenheim)
Coach: Ante Cacic
Qualifying: 2nd in their Group, behind Italy and stealing an automatic spot
Croatia should go into this with great hope and an outside shot of causing a huge upset. Although it’s a tough group, they have real quality especially in midfield, and are strong in both defence and attack. In Modric, Rakitic and Kovacic, they have one of the best midfield pairings in the tournament, and even have Brozovic in reserve. With Perisic on the wing, and Mandzukic leading the line after a season of injury issues limited him to just 36 appearances and 13 goals. Turkey and Spain provide stern tests, but I think they will be among the top two.
Goalkeepers: Petr Cech (Arsenal), Tomas Koubek (Slovan Liberec) and Tomas Vaclik (Basel)
Defenders: Theodor Gebre Selassie (Werder Bremen), Roman Hubnik (Viktoria Plzen), Pavel Kaderabek (Hoffenheim), Michal Kadlec (Fenerbahce), David Limbersky (Viktoria Plzen), Daniel Pudil (Sheffield Wednesday), Tomas Sivok (Bursaspor), Marek Suchy (Basel)
Midfielders: Vladimir Darida (Hertha Berlin), Borek Dockal (Sparta Prague), Daniel Kolar (Viktoria Plzen), Ladislav Krejci (Sparta Prague), David Pavelka (Kasimpasa), Jaroslav Plasil (Girondins Bordeaux), Tomas Rosicky (Arsenal), Jiri Skalak (Brighton and Hove Albion), Josef Sural (Sparta Prague)
Forwards: David Lafata (Sparta Prague), Tomas Necid (Bursaspor), Milan Skoda (Slavia Prague)
Coach: Pavel Vrba
Qualifying: Won Group A
In the Czech Republic, we have a very experienced team. With the likes of Cech, Gebre Selassie, Hubnik, Plasil, Rosicky and Lafata – mainly the spine of the team, there is a lot of years behind those. They may have won their group which included tough games in Holland, Turkey and Iceland – but in this group they may come unstuck against the three teams they are about to come up against. Turkey beat them in the most recent meeting in November, while I think both the Croats and Spanish will have too much for them. It will be a battle for 3rd which I think they will lose with Turkey unfortunately.
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Porto), David De Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)
Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Dani Carvajal (Real Madrid), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid).
Midfielders: Bruno (Villarreal), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Thiago (Bayern Munich), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), David Silva (Man City), Pedro (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea)
Forwards: Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Nolito (Celta Vigo), Alvaro Morata (Juventus), Lucas Vasquez (Real Madrid)
Coach: Vicente del Bosque
Qualifying: 1st in Group C, despite an early loss to Slovakia
The scary thing about this Spanish team is the players they left out! Saul, Paco Alcacer (their top scorer in Qualifying), Mata, Costa, Isco – just 5 very good players, bordering on World Class – that haven’t made the cut, and in some cases not even made the provisional squad! It’s their first tournament after the 2014 World Cup debarcle, where they went out in the Group Stage. They do however have one of the toughest groups – both Turkey and Croatia are a match for most sides, with the latter unbeaten under Ante Cacic, and the former only losing to England in their last 10/15 games. I think they’ve learned from the 2014 disaster and not picked players living on past glories which should be a good thing, but even then there is a chance of them coming 3rd if all goes wrong. With the Czech side in the group, they should be assured of at least a best 3rd place team.
Goalkeepers: Harun Tekin (Bursaspor), Onur Kıvrak (Trabzonspor), Volkan Babacan (İstanbul Başakşehir).
Defenders: Gökhan Gönül (Fenerbahçe), Şener Özbayraklı (Fenerbahçe), Ahmet Çalık (Gençlerbirliği), Hakan Balta (Galatasaray), Mehmet Topal (Fenerbahçe), Semih Kaya (Galatasaray), Caner Erkin (Fenerbahçe), İsmail Köybaşı (Beşiktaş).
Midfielders: Emre Mor (Nordsjælland), Volkan Şen (Fenerbahçe), Hakan Çalhanoğu (Bayer Leverkusen), Nuri Şahin (Borussia Dortmund), Oğuzhan Özyakup (Beşiktaş), Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahçe), Selçuk İnan (Galatasaray), Arda Turan (Barcelona), Olcay Şahan (Beşiktaş).
Forwards: Burak Yılmaz (Beijing Guoan), Cenk Tosun (Beşiktaş), Yunus Mallı (Mainz)
Coach: Fatih Terim
Qualifying: Best 3rd Placed Team, Finishing in 3rd in Group A alongside Czech Rep and Iceland
Turkey have made a huge call – taking the upcoming star that is Emre Mor (The Turkish Rashford, lets say) and leaving the likes of Gokhan Tore at home, who for me is a very dangerous winger and one we could be seeing Yin the Premier League very soon! Other than that shock call, a great deal of quality and a squad that will trouble the best Spain and Croatia have to offer. People are favouring Croatia to get into the top two, but Turkey are a very good team and can beat anyone on their day. In Arda Turan, Hakan Calhangolu, Nuri Sahin and Oguzhan Ozyakup they have a very good midfield, lead by Burak Yilmaz. A touch questionable at the back, but a solid team who could upset a few teams along the way in France this summer!
Possibly one of the toughest to call, as Turkey and Croatia could easily beat Spain, while the Czech side are not one to underestimate! Spain are the clear favourites to both win and qualify from it, but both of the other two mentioned could have a telling affect on what happens. It really is the group of death, and with the ageing nature of the Czech squad I think it is them who will be my top tip for the group, and that is to finish bottom of the group.
Top tip for Group D – Czech Republic to finish bottom @ 6/5