Spain still the great unknown of Euro 2020 after Sweden stalemate

By Sports Desk June 14, 2021

We've wondered throughout the build-up whether Spain are realistic contenders to win Euro 2020. After Monday's goalless draw with Sweden, it feels like we're no closer to an answer.

La Roja began their quest for a record fourth European Championship title in the hot evening air of Seville's La Cartuja stadium, the sparse crowd in fine voice, the players looking sharp, their early passing as crisp as Luis Enrique's brilliant white shirt.

Yet so soporific was the heat, humidity and patient midfield build-up that, come the 90th minute, you'd have forgiven every fan in the stands for nodding off.

That's not to say this was a poor performance from Spain. Rather, it was what we have come to expect over the past 15 years: authority in possession bordering on totalitarian, swarming opponents on the rare occasion the ball got away. Sweden completed two passes in the Spain half in the opening 20 minutes and ended the contest with 14.9 per cent of the ball, easily the lowest recorded figure at this tournament since at least 1980. Unfortunately for Spain, they never looked uncomfortable.

It was very similar to the goalless draw with Portugal in the warm-up game in Madrid. It also bore a likeness to a match almost exactly eight years ago, when Vicente del Bosque's side started their Confederations Cup campaign against Uruguay in which they had 92 per cent of the ball in the first nine minutes.

The difference that day was the passing had a purpose. They scored twice but should really have got more, and they only conceded through a spectacular Luis Suarez free-kick. How Luis Enrique would love to have his old Barcelona striker in this side.

These days, there is no Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Xabi Alonso or Cesc Fabregas in midfield, no roving David Silva and David Villa in attack. It is accepted that this Spain can't do things in quite the same way as that remarkable squad that won consecutive European Championships either side of the 2010 World Cup. They're not expected to play the same way.

The problem here was that they seemed to try.

Spain completed 419 passes in the first half alone, the highest figure in the opening 45 minutes of a European Championship game since at least 1980, but conjured only three shots on target. Alvaro Morata wasted the best opening, skewing a shot wide after a rare mistake in the redoubtable Sweden rearguard.

 

In the second half, that shot count dropped to two on target, both of which came in injury time: a soft header from Gerard Moreno and a snapshot from Pablo Sarabia. The clearest chances fell Sweden's way, the excellent Alexander Isak miscuing a strike onto Marcos Llorente and the post, and Marcus Berg somehow scuffing wide with the goal at his mercy.

Again, this was not a horrible display of the kind produced at the 2014 World Cup, when Spain opened with a 5-1 loss to the Netherlands. Their control was practically absolute and, had Morata and Koke shown more first-half composure, the contest could have been over at half-time. As with the Portugal match, when Morata hit the bar in the final seconds, the difference between a win and a draw was slim. This is also the team that put six past Germany last November, so it's hardly the time for panic stations.

The problem is that nobody quite seemed sure what to expect from Spain before these finals, and this was hardly a convincing explanation. Even with Sergio Busquets sidelined and Sergio Ramos watching at home, the ghosts of the old guard permeated this performance – a performance dictated by tradition rather than fresh ideas.

Related items

  • Promoted Wigan hopes to lure Reggae Boy Lowe back to club Promoted Wigan hopes to lure Reggae Boy Lowe back to club

    Wigan Athletic hopes to lure Jamaica international Jamal Lowe back to the DW Stadium following the team’s return to the English Championship.

    The 27-year-old recently secured promotion to the English Premier League with AFC Bournemouth where he scored 7 goals this season.  Following the team’s return to the top flight, however, doubts have been raised surrounding the likelihood of the player getting any significant game time.

    In fact, Lowe was left out of the squad for the team's crucial promotion fixture against Nottingham Forest, which may not augur well for the future.   

    Wigan in the meantime are preparing for life back in the second tier following their promotion from League One.  Lowe was a popular figure at Wigan having made some 46 appearances between 2019 and 2020.

    Wigan could do with some reinforcements to their squad as they continue to eventually plot a return to the Premier League.

  • PSG women's head coach Olle-Nicolle suspended over alleged 'inappropriate behaviour and remarks' PSG women's head coach Olle-Nicolle suspended over alleged 'inappropriate behaviour and remarks'

    Paris Saint-Germain women's head coach Didier Olle-Nicolle has been suspended following allegations of "inappropriate behaviour and remarks".

    The French club announced in a statement on Tuesday that Olle-Nicolle will not be involved in team duties while an internal investigation takes place.

    Olle-Nicolle, 61, has been in charge since July 2021.

    "Paris Saint-Germain has been made aware of inappropriate behaviour and remarks that members of its Women's Team have been exposed to," a PSG statement read.

    "These remarks and events, if confirmed, would be incompatible with Paris Saint-Germain’s sporting and human values.

    "Paris Saint-Germain is taking this situation seriously and intends to bring to light the reported events and remarks.

    "In order to protect the interests of all parties, the coach of the Women's Team has been suspended today, in agreement with Paris Saint-Germain. 

    "This is a fair and temporary measure. It will not prejudice the internal investigation that will be undertaken, nor impact the decisions that the club may be led to take."

    PSG are second in the French top flight and host leaders Lyon, who are five points better off, in their penultimate game of the campaign on Sunday.

    They won the French Cup earlier this month and also reached the last four of the Women's Champions League, where they were eliminated by eventual champions Lyon.

  • French Open: 'He made his mark on the sport' – Federer, Djokovic and Nadal pay tribute to 'charismatic' Tsonga French Open: 'He made his mark on the sport' – Federer, Djokovic and Nadal pay tribute to 'charismatic' Tsonga

    Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have paid tribute to the "charismatic" Jo-Wilfried Tsonga after the 37-year-old brought his 18-year professional career to a close.

    Tsonga, who reached a career-high ranking of world number five in 2012, confirmed in April that he would retire at the culmination of his French Open campaign.

    That duly came in the first round on Tuesday as he bowed out to world number eight Casper Ruud 6-7 (6-8) 7-6 (7-4) 6-2 7-6 (7-0).

    He retires having won, according to Opta, 464 Tour-level matches since September 2004.

    Tsonga is one of just three players, along with Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, to have beaten Nadal, Federer and Djokovic while they were ranked world number one.

    He is also one of three players, alongside Stan Wawrinka and Tomas Berdych, who have defeated Nadal, Federer and Djokovic at grand slams.

    A video tribute was played on court after his defeat to Ruud, which featured messages from the sport's most iconic players.

    Federer said: "I wanted to congratulate you on an amazing career and it was a pleasure to share the court with and play against you, even to lose against you!

    "We had some great battles. Enjoy the moment in Paris with all your friends and family, in front of all your adoring spectators."

    Djokovic added: "Jo is one of the most charismatic tennis players ever to play the game. I was very happy to share the court with him many times.

    "We get along well and he's a really nice guy. He brought a lot of positive attention and popularity to our sport not just because of his dynamic game style, but also his charisma and his personality, so it's a big loss for professional men's tennis to have him retire.

    "I wish him all the best, and he definitely should be happy about his career and his achievements. He's made his mark and his legacy in our sport."

    Nadal said: "He is very charismatic. I've known him since we were kids; he is a good guy and I think he brings a lot of positive things to our sport so I'm sad to see him going but we are getting old so it's going to happen for everyone."

    Speaking at a media conference after his defeat, Tsonga said he would now spend some time relaxing before focusing on the development of his tennis academy.

    He said he will miss the adrenaline of playing on court, as well as how he was able to express himself completely when competing.

    "It's adrenaline, to step onto a big court like this one," he said. "It's adrenaline you can feel when you have 15,000 people shouting out your name, supporting you on the court.

    "This is what I'm going to miss – the contact with the crowd. And with those who have been supporting me for all these years.

    "You know, in real life, it's sometimes difficult to be intense. You don't want to shock, you don't want to be too rude, you don't want to hurt somebody.

    "You always try to act to be nice, to be sociable. But, you know, on the court, you can express your fever. You can express everything about you, and it's sometimes freeing."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.