Spain finished second in their qualifying group to Sweden, finishing a single point behind the defending champions. This meant that La Roja had to face Austria in a play off to reach the tournament. The first leg in Austria was a 1-1 draw and the game in Spain was 0-0 meaning that Spain qualified due to an away goal. In the lead up to the tournament the Spaniards have found their form winning their two friendly games. The first A 3-1 home victory against Denmark and then brilliant 2-1 away win against Italy.
Looking at the Spanish squad really does force you to appreciate how well they develop their young native players. From back to front they are blessed with superb talent and players used to playing at the highest level. Their full backs, Hector Bellerin and Jose Gaya are both first team regulars at Arsenal and Valencia respectively. The midfield is exceptional. Saul Niguez who has been outstanding for Atletico Madrid has the company of cross city rival Marcos Asensio in the middle of the field. He is also joined by Dani Ceballos, Denis Suarez and Gerard Deulofeu showing just how much choice they have. In the final third they have Inaki Williams, Borja Mayoral and Sandro Ramirez. It is clear to see that Spain mean business in this competition.
The big names and experience in the squad must make Spain the favourites for the tournament. They have unparalleled quality and if the team click and work together they should be lifting the trophy. However, they have a difficult group and with the strict regulations on getting to the next round mean that one slip up could be enough to see them miss out on the semi-finals.
The Portuguese won their group convincingly by a margin of five points. Their closest rivals were Israel, showing that they had one of the easier groups in the qualification phase. Eight wins and two draw were enough to see them through. They have been active after qualification finished playing four games in that time. Three wins against the Czech Republic, Norway and Germany and a draw against Holland came out of that stretch of games, sending the Portugal team into the competition in great form and full of confidence.
The quality they have at their disposal is enviable. They have Bayern Munich midfielder Renato Sanches, who moved to Germany from Benfica last summer for an initial fee of around £30 million. He has appeared 17 times for the German champions this season and has to be considered one of the biggest stars on display at the tournament. They also have Bruno Fernandes who plays in Serie A with mid table Sampdoria where he is a regular starter. Other stars include FC Porto’s Ruben Neves and Gonçalo Guedes who moved to Paris in January.
Portugal will push Spain at the top of Group B. Can they finish top? It will be a great achievement if they do so. In tournament football anything can happen and they are not a million miles away from Spain’s standard. It certainly looks as if these two giants will be battling it out at the top of this group.
The young Serbs finished second in qualifying behind Italy by a single point. They held on in the play-off against Norway, winning 2-0 at home then losing 1-0 away. It was a tight last few minutes in that game. They have beaten Sweden and Greece in the run up to the tournament but could only draw with Israel and they lost to Slovakia.
The Serbians have some good players that could emulate some previous players that have come through their under 21 team like Branislav Ivanovic. Liverpool’s Marko Grujic could be a big player for the Serbs and he has been capped 12 times at under 21 level. Partizan striker Uros Durdevic is experienced at this level playing 27 times and scoring 15 goals. Serbia will be looking for him to fire if they are to get anywhere in this competition.
It will be a difficult task for Serbia in this group. Spain and Portugal are two of the best sides competing in Poland and they will need a couple of massive performances in those two games to progress to the next round.
What a qualifying campaign for Macedonia. They finished at the summit of a group which include France and Ukraine. A total shock which saw them lose just the one game away at Iceland. A couple of draws against France are impressive. Two friendly games on the road to the competition have seen two wins and two clean sheets.
Macedonia’s squad has vast experience. Four of their players have played over 20 times for the under 21’s. Their 22 year old centre back Gjoko Zajkov will be vital at the back for them when facing some of the attacking quality on display in their group. David Babunski will be vital in their attacking dimension. The 23 year old now plays in Japan but was brought through at Barcelona in his youth career. He played 48 times for Barcelona B before moving to Red Star Belgrade.
It will be difficult for Macedonia. However, it has been difficult for them to even get to this stage. It would be an even bigger shock if they could qualify from this star studded group. It would make one hell of a headline though.