Kozak stays in charge for World Cup qualifiers. In the end, the defending champions gave up their crown with a whimper. They had appeared to put the 2014 World Cup disaster behind them with impressive performances in their opening two games, but were spooked by Croatia in their final group match, when a draw would have seen them top the pool. They then failed to rise to the occasion against Italy, when coach Vicente Del Bosque could not cope with tactics that stifled Spain’s midfield. Andres Iniesta looked as if he might fill the void left by Xavi and Xabi Alonso, but Spain needed new blood and an extra defensive midfielder alongside Sergio Busquets. Thiago and Koke did not feature enough, but the decision to leave Diego Costa out of the squad was vindicated by the form of Alvaro Morata.
Andres Iniesta, David De Gea.
Sergio Busquets, David Silva. played their best football in the opening game against Russia, when manager Roy Hodgson’s natural caution prompted the substitution of Wayne Rooney before Russia’s late, undeserved equaliser. Hodgson made bold half-time changes against Wales – the first ever double halftime substitution by England at a tournament – but he faced criticism for reinventing Rooney as a midfielder and his loyalty to the misfiring Raheem Sterling. A tired Harry Kane and an out-of-sorts Joe Hart contributed to England’s woes. The inevitable post-tournament inquest must surely centre on the cause of England’s mental fragility at major tournaments. Eric Dier.
Wayne Rooney, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Joe Hart.
Hair-raising…Marek Hamsik excelled against Russia