Euro 2016: Are Spain the clear favourites in the tournament after their emphatic rout of Turkey?
Almost half of the games in Euro 2016 have already been played by now, with most of the teams having already played their second group game. These are some of the closest Euros in recent memory. The decision to increase the number of teams from 16 to 24 has not had much impact on the overall quality of the tournament.
In fact, many of the countries appearing newly in competitive tournaments (like Iceland, Northern Ireland and Albania) have shown mettle, talent and composure and have laid down the gauntlet to the very best teams involved in the tournament.
What’s more, the addition of 8 teams to both the group phases and the knockout stages now means that the group stages are now being contested more keenly than ever. With 16 knockout berths up for grabs and only the 4 best of the 3rd-placed teams in groups qualifying for the knockouts, almost every side in the competition technically still has the opportunity to make the knockouts, as well as missing out on them.
Only Spain, France and Italy have confirmed their knockout berths thus far, winning both of their matchups convincingly.
Pre-tournament favourites France and Germany are yet to stamp their authority on a game in the manner that favourites are supposed to. Both teams are lacking something which even Spain and Italy have hunted for, among other things - a top-quality, true centre-forward who plays with his back to goal and bullies defenders around the box and inside it.
Mario Gomez is yet to start for Germany in the tournament, while Olivier Giroud is clearly not the answer for France, as is apparent from their games against Romania and Albania.
So how good are Spain really?
This leaves us to analyze the Spanish, who, in 2 games, have shown the rest of the continent their technical supremacy over every other team in the tournament. Indeed, the manner in which they knocked the ball around against Turkey, who are tough opponents for any team in the world, must’ve been quite intimidating for any opposition player watching.
Their only cause for concern in the game against Czech Republic was the form of their forwards, Morata and Nolito. These concerns have now been emphatically put away by the pair, who were on fire yesterday.
In particular, the problem with Spain was that while Morata and Nolito were important bits of their buildup play against the Czechs, the defending of the Czechs made it really difficult for either of them to make unmarked runs. Turkey let them a bit off the hook, and this marked trouble for their backline.
Morata ghosted in between their centrebacks and got in a perfect touch to Nolito’s cross for the first, while an unmarked run from Nolito into the box allowed him to capitalize on Mehmet Topal’s horrible headed backpass and score past Babacan in the Turkish goal.
Throughout the game, while the dominance of Iniesta, Busquets, Silva and Fabregas kept Turkey off the ball, the threat that Nolito and Morata routinely posed gave them the extra dimension that elite, in-form forwards provide to any side.
Germany, by contrast, have only tried Gotze in the no. 9 role, with Gomez getting a run at the position only late on in the game against Poland.
Iniesta looks like an inspired soul in these Euros, even by his lofty standards. His pass into Jordi Alba’s path that paved the way for the killer third goal that Morata scored is proof of his high level of play – he looks set to make a strong run at retaining the Player of the Tournament trophy he won in 2012.
Alongside him, David Silva has been doing David Silva things himself, while Busquets and Fabregas have turned in 2 strong performances themselves.
The defence, led by captain Sergio Ramos, looks as beastly as ever. This was evident even by the play of Cesar Azpilicueta, who came on as a substitute for Jordi Alba in the closing stages of the game and gave glimpses of why he was Jose Mourinho’s favourite player at Chelsea.
The fallout over the David de Gea issue does not seem to have had any effect on the players’ confidence levels whatsoever – Ramos’ celebration with Pique following his winner against Czech Republic presents strong evidence of this.
The most important, and unanswered question about Spain is something only time will tell now – whether their relatively fresh squad can display the same dominance that they have shown so far. Their desire does not seem to be a problem – the squad is full of multiple accolade winners.
Whether they are ready to change tack against the likes of Italy, England, Germany and France in the face of a nearly equal possession battle is the question. They have the squad to be able to play at the pace they want to, and they are in a purple patch right now.