Spain were unable to turn their dominance of possession into goals as they were held to a scoreless draw by Sweden in Sevilla.
In a one-sided first half, Spain had numerous chances to take the lead, with Dani Olmo forcing a strong stop from Robin Olsen and Koke going close. Alvaro Morata, who retained his starting berth ahead of Gerard Moreno, had his side’s best opportunity but wasted the chance after finding himself through on goal.
But for all of Spain’s dominance, it was Sweden who came closest to taking the lead. Alexander Isak was largely a spectator for the majority of the first half before bursting into the Spain box shortly before half-time and firing a low shot at goal that was diverted onto the post by Marcos Llorente.
Spain’s passing slowed after the break and Luis Enrique’s side looked short of ideas. Isak set up Marcus Berg for another Sweden chance that, if taken, would have been completely against the run of play – but which should have offered Spain a warning that they needed to score themselves.
Moreno was brought on with 20 minutes to go and had the best of a flurry of late chances, but Olsen remained unbeaten as Spain’s night ended in frustration.
Here are five things we learned from this Group E opener…
Spain won’t worry contenders
It’s not how you start major tournaments, it’s how you finish them – but Spain’s opening performance of Euro 2020 would not have worried the likes of France, Belgium or England.
Spain, famously, lost their opening match of the 2010 World Cup but finished as champions, but they are a much different team now. Under Enrique’s rebuild they still look pleasant on the eye but some of the familiar issues of the past few years were apparent here again.
Despite having an overwhelming amount of possession, they lacked a cutting edge and looked desperately short of pace late on in the match. Despite keeping a clean sheet, the defensive duo of Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres struggled at times to deal with Alexander Isak.
A goalless draw is not the end of the world but Spain’s performance will not have made many in Europe sit up and take notice. They should still qualify from Group E – but on this evidence a deep run in this tournament looks beyond them.
After his 32-goal season was followed up by being given Spain’s number 9 shirt, it seemed certain that Gerard Moreno would line the forward line for Luis Enrique’s side at these Euros.
But in Spain’s Group E opener, it was Juventus forward Alvaro Morata who got the nod. It wouldn’t have been a popular pick among the Spanish faithful – after all, Morata was booed by sections of his home fans following Spain’s goalless draw with Portugal before the tournament.
Morata’s finish midway through the first half was one of a player short on confidence in front of goal who had recently been through such an ordeal. It was tame and unconvincing, just at a time where Spain needed a ruthless striker to turn their dominance into an opening goal. Another disappointing evening for the Juventus striker here ended in him being taken off shortly after the hour-mark.
Moreno, meanwhile, was eventually brought on by Enrique late on with his side in desperate need of a winner. The Villarreal man had a golden opportunity himself with a header from close range from Sarabia’s cross, but he was unable to beat Olsen.
Despite spending the majority of his match chasing the ball, Alexander Isak was able to offer a glimmer of why there is so much excitement around the Real Sociedad striker.
With Sweden spending so much time dropped into their own half, the 21-year-old only had two opportunities to get on the ball and stretch the play – but on both occasions his side came close to taking an unlikely lead.
He looked to have the beat of Spain’s two centre-backs, and both Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres lost out on their one-on-one battles with the striker.
The frustration for Sweden was that he was not involved more, and that he was taken off midway through the second half. The team’s attacking threat disappeared with it but there were definite signs that Isak can cause problems for the rest of Group E in upcoming games against Poland and Slovakia.
This isn’t what you might expect from Spain but against Sweden Enrique’s side looked to deliver the ball early into the box, and often – especially in the opening 20 minutes. Ferran Torres, Koke and Dani Olmo all produced accurate crosses into the area in the first half, with other members of the team looking to attack the six-yard box.
Whether this was by instruction is hard to say, but perhaps Enrique wanted his side to be more incisive and speed up their attacks. It could have been to dissuade his side from spending spells of the game passing the ball aimlessly around the edge of the Sweden box, which their Group E opponents may have been expecting.
The quality of some of those deliveries declined sharply after half-time, and Spain were much less threatening as a result. There was a real lack of urgency and tempo to their play after the break, as well as a sudden lack of quality from wide areas.
…and their pressing
Spain’s ferocious pressing ensured they retained possession and contributed to their absurd dominance of the opening 45 minutes- they had 83 per cent of the ball and completed 419 passes, the most in a first half at a European Championships since records began.
Sweden looked exhausted chasing shadows in the heat of Sevilla and struggled to string any passes together. Even their technical players, such as Kristoffer Olsson, found it tough to find a team-mate, with the Krasnodar midfielder resorting to booting the ball downfield in the 15th minute like it was the final seconds of a cup final.
It provided the building blocks for what should have been a comfortable opening win – but their finishing let them down.
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