In-form Spain, Italy eye Euros last 16

Paris (AFP) – The knockout stages of Euro 2016 beckon for defending champions Spain and 2012 finalists Italy if they can back up their opening wins with more success against Turkey and Sweden on Friday.

Luka Modric’s Croatia could also get through with a win against Czech Republic.

Spain avoided their normal early tournament jitters as Gerard Pique headed home the winner three minutes from time to seal a deserved three points against a dogged Czech Republic with a 1-0 win.

Vicente del Bosque’s men are now unbeaten in 13 European Championship games as they look to win an unprecedented third straight title.

Del Bosque is expected to name the same side that started against the Czechs despite doubts over his striking options.

Juventus’ Alvaro Morata spurned a number of opportunities before he was replaced by 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz on his major championships debut.

However, Del Bosque has so far resisted the temptation to deploy Cesc Fabregas in the false nine role he shone in as Spain won a second consecutive Euros in 2012.

Turkey are under huge pressure to improve on an insipid display as they went down 1-0 to Croatia on Sunday.

Young midfielder Ozan Tufan was mocked at home and abroad after pictures showed him adjusting his hair at the very moment Croatia’s Luka Modric scored a stunning match-winning volley.

And Turkey manager Fatih Terim called for more “fight” from his players against Spain.

“There are two games and six points still to play for, we can still go far,” Terim said on Thursday.

However, the veteran former AC Milan boss also conceded that even a draw would be a “great result”.

– History-chasing Zlatan –

Italy produced arguably the best performance in the first round of fixtures to shut out highly-fancied Belgium 2-0.

Next up for the Azzurri is a clash with a man who terrorised opposition defences in Serie A for seven seasons in Sweden captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

However, Chelsea-bound Italy boss Antonio Conte is keen to avoid euphoria setting in after Italy crashed out the 2014 World Cup at the group stage despite beating England in their opening game.

“Zlatan is so strong that he can play in any league in the world… he is capable of destabilising a whole team,” Conte said on Thursday.

Ibrahimovic could become the first man to score in four separate European Championships.

The Manchester United target scored a spectacular backheeled effort against Italy when the two sides met in the group stages of Euro 2004.

And the man he beat that night in Porto, Gianluigi Buffon, will stand in the way of his ex-Juventus teammate once more in Toulouse.

“At the time Zlatan was just a young player and probably did not know the kind of career that lay ahead of him,” said Buffon.

“In the past 12 years he’s shown on more than one occasion how talented he is and he’s managed to repeat that backheel goal three or four times since. It’s become his speciality.”

Sweden are in more need of the points after a poor display despite salvaging a point in a 1-1 draw against Ireland on Monday.

– “Little-Spain” –

Croatia can book their place in the knockout stages with victory over the Czech Republic if Turkey fail to beat Spain.

Real Madrid’s Modric was the star of the show in their win over Turkey and Czech coach Pavel Vrba believes a team also boasting Modric’s Real teammate Mateo Kovacic and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic can be considered a “little Spain.”

“With their stars playing at Real and Barcelona, they can be nicknamed ‘little Spain’. We know another tough game is in front of us,” said the Czech boss.

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