A look at Group D at Euro 2016
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 04, 2016 07:59 AM
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 16, 2015 file photo, Spain's national soccer team coach Vincente Del Bosque watches his players during a training session at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert, File)
The Associated Press
A look at the teams and their key players and coach in Group D at the European Championship:
Croatia's reputation as a football power is growing, with the team having qualified for the European Championship for the fourth consecutive time. The reputation of its fans, though, is only getting worse. Croatia was docked one point in qualifying and ordered to play two matches in an empty stadium after a swastika was painted on the field before a match against Italy this year. It wasn't the first time that the country's core of right-wing supporters — who identify with the World War II-era Ustasha regime — caused trouble, and Croatia's traveling supporters are likely to be closely monitored in France.
LUKA MODRIC: The Real Madrid playmaker is Croatia's leader in midfield, where he can play in almost any position. He can score as well as set up goals, or help the defense. His time in Madrid has taught him how to win major titles and perform in big games. In his eight appearances in Euro 2016 qualifying, Modric scored two goals and set up another two.
IVAN RAKITIC: The midfielder is another key part of Croatia's midfield and has only grown in stature since moving to Barcelona, where he scored eight goals in his first season. The crucial one came in the Champions League final in June when he popped up in the Juventus box to open the scoring early in Barcelona's 3-1 victory. He played all 10 Croatian qualifiers for the Euros, scoring a goal and setting up four.
COACH ANTE CACIC: The 62-year-old coach was hastily hired in September after his predecessor Niko Kovac was fired following two disappointing results threatened Croatia's aspirations to qualify for France. Cacic lived up to expectations as Croatia won the remaining two qualifiers to advance. Doubts remain over his assistant, former defender Josip Simunic, who was hired by the federation even though he was banned for 10 games for leading fans in a pro-Nazi chant.
By Karel Janicek
Boosted by new coach Pavel Vrba, who took over after the failure to advance to the 2014 World Cup, the Czech Republic is back on a winning track. The team won its qualifying group — helping eliminate the Netherlands along the way — to maintain a record of reaching every European Championship since Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Vrba, who led his Viktoria Plzen to the Champions League twice in three years, has managed to combine veteran stars like goalkeeper Petr Cech and playmaker Tomas Rosicky with lesser known players from the domestic league.
PETR CECH: In Cech, the Czechs have one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Rejuvenated after his transfer from Chelsea to Arsenal ahead of the Premier League season, Cech equaled the national-team record when he made his 118th international appearance in a friendly against Poland in November. He had 53 clean sheets in those games, and will probably need a few more in France if the Czechs are to make a mark.
TOMAS ROSICKY: The former Arsenal midfielder is the captain and heartbeat of the Czech midfield, and led the team to the semifinals at Euro 2004. But he missed the 2008 tournament with a knee injury, was injured again at the 2012 edition and missed a large part of the qualifying campaign this time around. He has 100 international appearances, and after recovering from injuries that prevented him from playing at all in the Premier League last season, he is ready to add more.
COACH PAVEL VRBA: Vrba took over the national team on Jan. 1, 2014, with fans desperate for a more attack-minded style of play after a series of uninspiring performances. So far, Vrba has lived up to his reputation of being a supporter of attractive football. His team twice beat the Netherlands in qualifying to prevent the Dutch from reaching the finals for the first time since 1984.
By Karel Janicek
There will be more than another title at stake for Spain at the Euro 2016. The two-time defending champion will be playing to re-establish itself as a dominant force in the game. Spain was the team to beat after winning consecutive European Championships in 2008 and 2012, along with the World Cup in 2010. But its shock elimination in the group stage of last year's World Cup raised doubts about its supremacy. Many said the elimination in Brazil marked the end of an era, but several of the stars who helped La Roja thrive in the last few years will try to bring the team back to the top in France.
ANDRES INIESTA: One of the pillars of Spain's dominant squad in recent years — and not just for scoring the only goal of the 2010 World Cup final with the Netherlands — Iniesta will be carrying most of the load in the midfield after the retirement of Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez. The Barcelona star will be key if Spain wants to win yet another European trophy.
IKER CASILLAS: The goalkeeper is Spain's most-capped player and should be the starter next year despite a challenge by David De Gea. Casillas has remained Del Bosque's favorite even after transferring from Real Madrid to FC Porto last year, and will be looking to make up for his disappointing World Cup performance in Brazil.
COACH VICENTE DEL BOSQUE: The coach who led Spain to its first World Cup title in 2010 still hasn't officially announced what he will do after Euro 2016. But he has hinted that it could be his last tournament. The 65-year-old Del Bosque said recently it "wouldn't be bad" for Spain if he leaves, because then new ideas would be put in place.
By Tales Azzoni
Turkey has a point to prove in Euro 2016. The country reached the semifinals of the World Cup in 2002, finishing third, and again made it to the last four in Euro 2008, thanks to a string of last-gasp wins that became the signature style of the hard-fighting Turks. But it took them another eight years to get back to a major tournament, and only after a new round of drama. Selcuk Inan scored a free kick in the 89th minute for Turkey, beating Iceland 1-0 in their final match to advance as best third-placed team and push the Dutch into shock elimination. Veteran coach Fatih Terim has redrawn the Turkish defense, brought in younger players and watched his team climb back up the world rankings.
ARDA TURAN: Turkey's captain and energizer-in-chief, Turan started his international career as a senior at age 19 and has been the key figure in the team's transition back to success. Most football fans outside Turkey know the 28-year-old from his time at Atletico Madrid, when he helped his team to an all-Spanish 2014 final in the Champions League. Turan made a high-profile move to Barcelona last year.
BURAK YILMAZ: Inan's goal against Iceland may have been Turkey's most decisive, but Galatasaray teammate and strike partner Burak Yilmaz has scored more for Turkey. The 30-year-old found the net four times in six qualification matches to bring his total to 19. At 1.88 meters (six-foot-two), Yilmaz's height is an asset for Terim.
COACH FATIH TERIM: Turks calls him "The Emperor." Plain spoken and intense, Fatih Terim is currently on his third spell as national coach, credited as a team-builder who can take on opponents with a higher individual market value. The former Galatasaray player and coach missed qualification for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. He publicly demanded more from his players after disappointing early results in the Euro qualifiers.
By Derek Gatopoulos