Euro 2016, Group D: Spain face Turkey, Croatia and Czech tests
1. Spain 2. Croatia 3. Turkey 4. Czech Republic
Spain (SPI odds to win group: 53.9 percent)
Stunned 5-1 by Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where they abdicated their throne earlier than expected, Spain have lost their aura but remain among the favourites for the Euros, as nine wins out of 10 through qualifying suggest. They are not to be underestimated. Spain can become the first team to three-peat in this competition, and with the tournament experience and depth they have in midfield, it wouldn't come as a surprise. Still, Vicente del Bosque does have issues between the sticks where David De Gea must surely be picked ahead of the veteran Iker Casillas. Then there is the small matter of who to go with up front given Diego Costa was not picked, Alvaro Morata's big-game reputation and Nolito's fine form. Planning to retire after the tournament, might Del Bosque, one of the game's true gents, go out on a high?
Croatia (23.5 percent)
If Croatia come together as a team, then there is no reason why they can't match their achievements in 1996 and 2008 and reach the last eight. A lot of the attention falls on the midfield and understandably so. Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic play for Real Madrid; Ivan Rakitic is a regular for Barcelona. The depth and variety in those positions is impressive too. In defence, Croatia have excellent full-backs. Darijo Srna is a great leader. Sime Vrsaljko is one of the best crossers in Serie A. Up front, Mario Mandzukic is a warrior and has had a fine season at Juventus; Ivan Perisic offers width and goals. But the question marks come at centre-back as Dejan Lovren has been left out amid differences with coach Ante Cacic. Confidence in Cacic in general is not the greatest, however if he gets the balance right, this team has what it takes to do very well.
Turkey (13.9 percent)
Back in the Euros for the first time since 2008, we can only hope Turkey are as thrilling this summer as they were then when they reached the semifinals in style. Fatih Terim was in charge at the time and is again now. Turkey didn't need a playoff to book their place in France; they qualified as the best third-placed team and were undefeated in 13 games until their defeat to England in Manchester in May. Technically accomplished, a midfield comprising one of the world's best free kick takers, Hakan Calhanoglu; the Barcelona winger Arda Turan; and deep-lying playmaker Selcuk Inan makes the midfield makes them a watchable side. Terim is optimistic of making the knockout stages. So hopeful in fact he has included Besiktas winger Gokhan Tore in his squad, even though he will not be available until the final group game against the Czech Republic due to suspension.
Czech Republic (9.0 percent)
beyond this current generation of Czechs even if they did win their qualifying group in decent style. Aside from captain and veteran goalkeeper Petr Cech, they no longer feature a host of names from the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A. Pavel Vrba's big decision was whether to include Tomas Rosicky or not. The team has guile in midfield; Vladimir Darida has impressed at Hertha this season and Borek Dockal is a late bloomer. The Czechs also have goal-scorers:David Lafata is a four-time top scorer at home but hasn't been able to translate his prolific nature at international level; Bursaspor's Tomas Necid offers more height. They both scored as the Czechs warmed up with a 6-0 win against Malta and Milan Skoda also gives Vrba another option.
Must-see game: Turkey vs. Croatia
What a treat we have in store June 12 at the Parc des Princes. The quarterfinal between Turkey and Croatia was one of the most thrilling games in European Championship history in 2008. Goalless after normal time, Croatia thought they have won it when Ivan Klasnic scored in the 119th minute, only for Semih to score an equaliser in the stoppage time of extra time, the latest goal in the history of this competition. Euphoric, Turkey beat a deflated Croatia in a penalty shootout. Let's hope we get a similar scintillating spectacle inside 90 minutes when they meet in Paris.
Best individual battle: Luka Modric vs. Andres Iniesta
Worth the ticket price on their own, the pair are an absolute joy to watch. Like conductors of an orchestra, they are the ones capable of making their teams play in perfect harmony. A mini-Clasico between the two Mozarts of Real Madrid and Barcelona, Modric and Iniesta, those pale geniuses, will meet in Bordeaux on June 21. It's the final game of the group and a lot could still be at stake.
Group X Factor: The inside men
Manchester United's player of the season for a third successive year, it's remarkable that De Gea had only eight caps for Spain before May when you consider the decline of Casillas. Of course Casillas' status as captain and his magnificent career should be respected, but a move to FC Porto has not generated an upturn in form. The veteran goalkeeper has apparently told Del Bosque that he is humble enough to take a role on the bench at the Euros if De Gea is the one in better shape, but it should be a no-brainer and present Spain with an even solider foundation on which to build a successful tournament.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.