Two time defending Champions Spain would look to start their title defence with a win as they face the dangerous Czech Republic in their opening group match of Euro 2016. This Group D encounter will be played at the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse on Monday, June 13.
Spain’s golden generation dominated global football for the past decade with continuous trophies and tiki-taka football taking the world by storm. But all that seems to be a story from the past, especially since World Cup 2014 where their performance was terribly pathetic. Though this side isn’t short of talent or experience, they seem to miss a spark of brilliance that distinguished them four-five years back.
Spain cruised through the qualification from a group that has Slovakia and Ukraine with just one loss in ten matches. But their preparations for the tournament have been lackluster and indifferent – highlighted by the shock loss to Georgia. This was their only loss in ten previous encounters but the manner of loss was much more poignant than the loss itself.
Though they were able to control the possession, Spain couldn’t find a way past the stocky defence of Georgia. This was in complete contrast to their ruthlessness against South Korea or for that matter their performance in other friendlies. Their forwards were ineffective against the lower ranked Georgia posing question marks ahead of the tournament on their ability to dominate deep lying teams. But still there is denying the fact that Spain start as group favorites and anything less than a semi-finals performance would be considered a failure.
It is not as if Czech Republic had a great run-in to the Euros, either. A look at their recent performance graph will resemble a pendulum with greater affinity to swing low than to strike high. With just five wins in their past ten encounters, there is a cause of concern in the Czech camp. Head coach Pavel Vrba knows that the group is very tight with Turkey and Croatia making it an interesting foursome. Considered to be the weakest of the four, the Czechs know that points come at a premium.
On any other day or on paper, this would have been a mismatch but the recent hiccup for Spain could throw a lifeline to the Czechs. But the Spanish side is still brimming with superstars with the likes of Iker Casillas, Gerard Pique, Andres Iniesta and Alvaro Morata good enough to win matches on their own.
Prior to the shocking loss to Georgia in their last friendly, Spain had a comfortable run against South Korea and Bosnia. But their problems upfront are well documented and could come back to hurt them. The unwanted controversy around David De Gea notwithstanding, the quality at the disposal of Vicente del Bosque is exemplary.
Czech Republic have had an indifferent run-in to the tournament. They looked solid in their 2-1 win over Russia but almost immediately against South Korea, they struggled to assert themselves.
Key players and team news
There are strong indications from the Spanish camp that Morata could start up front. The controversy around De Gea couldn’t have come at a worse time with the Manchester United stopper in risk of missing a starting berth. But in Casillas, there is a world class keeper waiting in the wings for Del Bosque.
The presence of Petr Cech under the bars is a huge bonus for the Czechs who will depend on the midfield prowess of Tomas Rosicky. Suspensions to Marek Suchy and Theodor Geber Selassie is sure to be felt by them against Spain. They could line up with just one striker up front and try stifling the creative midfielders of opponents.
Despite its recent problems, Spain should continue maintaining an edge over Czech Republic. But that may not mean a flurry of goals. In seven of Span’s last ten encounters, there have been fewer than three goals.
Czech Republic have managed just one clean sheet in their last ten matches while scoring 20 goals in these matches. But 15 of those goals have come in four matches which is a pointer to their struggles in unlocking strong defenses.
Spain have won three and drawn one of their previous meetings with Czech Republic with just six goals between the sides. An average of 1.25 goals per game points to another game of lesser number of goals.
Back Spain to come out victors at odds of 1.5 with Betfred.