Spain looks to put disastrous 2014 World Cup behind them in Group D of Euro 2016

Euro 2016’s Group D features the holders Spain, along with a dangerous Croatia side, the Czech Republic, and Turkey who will be competing in their first major tournament in eight years.

The holders Spain will be looking to put a disastrous World Cup where they failed to make it out of the group stage. The core of the team is starting to get old but they will be looking to prove that they still have another long tournament run in them.

While not many people are talking about them Croatia could be a team that makes a lot of noise in this tournament. Don’t be surprised if you see Ante Cacic’s men make a run all the way to the semis.

The Teams (odds according Bwin.com

Spain – 6th in the FIFA rankings – Best finish in Euros: Winner (2008 and 2012) – 6/1 odds to win

Croatia – 27th in the FIFA rankings – Best finish in Euros: 5th (2008) – 26/1 odds to win

Czech Republic – 30th in the FIFA rankings – Best finish in Euros: Winner (1976 as Czechoslovakia) – 101/1 odds to win

Turkey – 18th in the FIFA rankings – Best finish in Euros: 3rd (2008) – 81/1 odds to win

Best goalkeeper – David de Gea (Spain) 

Despite widely being considered one of the two best goalkeepers in the world, De Gea has somehow not been named Spain’s number 1 goalkeeper for this tournament. Just days before the tournament is set to begin manager Vicente del Bosque has yet to decide whether it will be Dea Gea, or the teams 35 year old captain Iker Casillas in goal. Casillas had a horrendous World Cup two years ago, and while he wasn’t the complete reason Spain failed to make it out of their group, there are more than a few goals he wishes he could have back. It should be noted that Casillas was going to be dropped for Spain’s final group game at the last World Cup, before De Gea injured his hand in training.

De Gea is coming off a third straight season where he won Manchester United’s player of the year award. He seems to have put last summer’s transfer saga behind him and is once again at the top of his game. All signs are pointing towards Del Bosque selecting De Gea, which would be very good for Spain.

Best outfield player – Ivan Rakitic (Croatia)

Over the last eight years it would be unheard of to pick a non-Spanish player as the best player in a group that included Spain but that’s how far Spain have fallen and how good Rakitic is. The Barcelona midfielder has become one of the best midfielders around, and together with Luka Modric, can take Croatia to the next level.

Player to watch – Luka Modric (Croatia)

For all the stars at Real Madrid Modric is often the forgotten one. Truth is he’s the midfield quarterback that makes their attack work. He’ll be able to show that off in this tournament when he makes magic, despite not having Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale in front of him.

Most important game – Czech Republic vs. Turkey

Despite being 18th in the FIFA rankings Turkey seems to be getting a disrespected as many believe Spain and Croatia will roll right through this group. That would make the match against the Czech’s a must win for Turkey.

With the expanded format, it’s possible that just one win will get a team through to the knockout round. That would make this game a must win for either of these teams if they hope to get through. A draw would likely leave them on the outside looking in. But if either of these teams can win this game and take points off either Croatia or Spain, four points would almost certainly see them through to the next round.

Biggest storyline – Can Spain’s old guard make one last run? 

It’s incredible that a team that won nine games and lost just one in qualifying, has won the last two European Championships along with a World Cup sandwiched in between could enter the tournament with this much scrutiny but yet here we are when it comes to Spain.

It’s no secret that the core of Spain’s team is getting older. Xavi Hernandez, their midfield lynchpin during their 2008, 2010, and 2012 Euro and World Cup triumphs retired following the 2014 World Cup. Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, and Xabi Alsonso are getting up there in age as well. The midfield as a whole can’t play and dominate the way they did at the end of the last decade, which leaves them very vulnerable up front where they don’t have a bonafide striker.

Spain hasn’t exactly helped their age issues. Manager Vicente del Basque still hasn’t decided between the aging Iker Casillas or the young David de Gea in goal, while he selected 35 year old striker Aritz Adruiz to the squad leaving 22 year old Paco Alcacer, who led the team in goals in qualifying, at home.

Spain has the experience to go deep in this tournament, the question is do they have too much experience this time around?

Teams to move on – Spain, Croatia 

Schedule (all times Eastern)

Sunday, June 12

Turkey vs. Croatia, 9 a.m., ESPN

Monday, June 13

Spain vs. Czech Republic, 9 a.m., ESPN

Friday, June 17 

Czech Republic vs. Croatia, Noon, ESPN

Spain vs. Turkey, 3 p.m., ESPN

Tuesday, June 21

Croatia vs. Spain, 3 p.m., ESPN

Czech Republic vs. Turkey 3 p.m., ESPN2

About Pauly Kwestel

Pauly is a Producer for WFAN in New York and the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has been writing about the beautiful game since 2010 and can be followed on twitter @pkwestelWFAN

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