Euro 2016 Day Four Preview
In what could be one of the most exciting days of Euro 2016, day four sees the entrance of the likes of European champions Spain, Italy and highly-fancied Belgium into the competition.
European champions Spain kick-off the defence of the trophy on Monday in Toulouse against Czech Republic in Group D.
Having won the competition on consecutive occasions, Spain should be confident heading into this tournament. However, mixed recent results and performances have raised question marks over the Spaniards ability to win the competition.
La Roja won their qualification group, claiming nine wins out of their ten games, although they suffered their first qualification defeat eight years, as Slovakia defeated Vicente del Bosque’s side 2-1.
Underwhelming wins over minnows like Belarus and Macedonia led to criticism of the team’s performances. A recent defeat at home against minnows Georgia in a friendly was a poor result, but in truth Spain dominated the game.
They have beaten Czech Republic in the last three meetings and despite some underwhelming recent displays will be expected to record a win in this clash.
Czech Republic won their qualification group ahead of fellow qualifiers Iceland and Turkey, even more surprisingly ahead of European giants the Netherlands, who endured a disastrous qualification campaign finishing fourth in the group.
Pavel Vrba’s team have gone off the boil since qualifying and have experienced decidedly mixed results in friendly games of late, including a 2-1 defeat at home to South Korea in their last warm-up match.
The Czech’s will need to return to the form that saw them record four consecutive wins at the start of qualifying to have any chance of pulling-off a victory against the European champions.
Attention then turns to Group E, as Republic of Ireland face Sweden in Saint Denis.
The Republic of Ireland made it through to Euro 2016 by beating Bosnia and Herzegovina in a play-off, having finished behind Poland and Germany in qualifying. Ireland deserves credit for making it out of a very difficult group though.
A stand-out game from qualifying for Ireland was the 1-0 win over world champions Germany, courtesy of a Shane Long goal. Ireland will be seen by many as the weakest team in this group, but have a good team spirit and are unlikely to be anybody’s whipping boys.
Sweden also needed a play-off to make it Euro 2016, as Erik Hamren’s side defeated fellow Scandinavians Denmark 4-3 on aggregate. The play-off win came following a third-place finish in Group G behind Austria and Russia.
Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the star of the show in qualifying scoring 11 times. The veteran striker will look to take centre stage for the Swedes again in France, but in truth will have be at his best this summer for his team to make the knockout stages, as his teammates are nowhere near the same standard as the 34-year-old.
The last game of day four is one of the more interesting of the first game week, as highly-rated Belgium and tournament-hardened Italy clash in Group D.
Belgium are the highest ranking team at Euro 2016, currently sitting second in the work ranking. Marc Wilmots side topped their qualifying group ahead of Wales, but they showed vulnerabilities at times and despite a number of star names they may still be regarded as slight outsiders by some.
Italy also topped their group in qualifying, remaining unbeaten, recording seven wins and three draws, but in truth their qualification campaign was highly-underwhelming. The Azzurri scored just 16 times in qualification, the lowest of any of the teams at the finals.
The fact that they only won 1-0 in both their games against Malta and Azerbaijan scored in both their meetings suggest that the Italians were not quite at the top of their game. However they are a team that cannot be written-off, as just like Germany tend to turn it on at the big international tournaments.