Friday, June 17th:
Italy v. Sweden
What a performance by the Italians in their win over Belgium. We knew the defense would be the strength of the team, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better performance from a defense than the Italians had against Belgium. Not only did they hold the high-powered Belgian attack without a goal, but defender Leonardo Bonucci created the winning-goal with an incredible pass from deep in the field to Emanuele Giaccherini. Italy plays three central defenders instead of the normal two, which makes it important that one of them is a guy like Bonucci, who can contribute to the attack with passes like that.
I still think there’s a ceiling to how far Italy can go in this tournament because of the lack of quality in front of that defense, but I wasn’t overly impressed with Sweden in their draw vs. Ireland and it looks like Italy has a good chance to win this group now.
Prediciton: Italy 1, Sweden 0
Czech Republic v. Croatia
Luka Modric scored an incredible goal to win Croatia’s first game but, like Dimitri Payet for France, would’ve been considered the best player on the field even if you took away their great goals. Modric plays deeper in the field than Payet though and, even down to his floppy hair, is probably the closest thing in the world right now to Italy’s Andrea Pirlo in his prime. Slight of build but just always around the ball and making the link-up play to seamlessly go from the defense to the attack, while doing some defending and attacking himself. Every time the ball started moving up the field for Turkey, you were just waiting for Modric to appear and do something with it, and there he’d be.
The Czechs stayed tied with Spain until the 88th minute in a solid opening performance. I haven’t changed my mind about them: they’re a solid team with good experience but lacking the talent to be anything more than that, and they find themselves in a tough group.
Prediction: Croatia 2, Czech Republic 1
Spain v. Turkey
Spain’s late goal in 1-0 defeat of the Czech Republic was certainly not enough to convince any doubters that they are back in championship form, but the defense was as good as advertised, as the Czechs managed just one scoring chance and, other than that, didn’t seem at all close to a goal at any point.
As I watched that game, it seemed that the key to Spanish chances in this tournament might rest with David Silva. Two of the four attacking players starting for them are Alvaro Morata and Nolito, who are both decent but not a whole lot can be expected. Another is Andres Iniesta, who played like the star that he is in the first game. The fourth is Silva, who has had stretches over the last couple years for Man City where you would consider him the best attacking midfielder in the league. That player was missing in the first game and a decent amount late in the EPL season. We know they will defend, but Iniesta can’t be the only one working some magic in the Spanish attack. They need Silva, also.
For Turkey, it looks like Arda Turan is far from his best form, and that spells doom for them.
Prediction: Spain 2, Turkey 0