Euro 2020, Group E preview: Not so straightforward for Spain; Poland, Sweden, Slovakia in the mix

EURO 2020: The three-time champion Spain is grouped with Poland, Sweden and Slovenia in what could be a competitive setting for the teams involved.

Spain's Gerard Moreno celebrates after scoring against Romania on Monday.

Spain's Gerard Moreno has been in superb form for his club side Villareal during the calendar year with 23 goals and nine assists.   -  Getty Images

While Spain is a traditional tournament favourite due to its pedigree in the competition and the international stage this century, things may not be so straightforward for La Roja. The three-time champion is grouped with Poland, Sweden and Slovenia in what could be a competitive setting for the teams involved. However, the unique nature of this edition sees Spain playing its three matches at home, while its opponents having to shuttle between St Petersburg and Seville — a nine-hour journey — in the space of nine days.

- SPAIN -

It has been a stop-start tenure for Spain coach Luis Enrique due to both personal reasons and the COVID-19 pandemic. Enrique has rebuilt this team in his image since the nation’s 2018 FIFA World Cup debacle, with only six players remaining from that squad.

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The former Barcelona coach made a few box-office calls with his selection by leaving out Sergio Ramos and handing a maiden call-up to Aymeric Laporte, who made 51 international youth appearances for France. There are no Real Madrid players in this 24-man Spanish squad. But Ramos has struggled with injuries all season and has made just a single league start for Real this year, while it could be argued that Los Blancos’ Spanish contingent hasn’t made a case with their performances. For all his qualities, Laporte, who switched allegiance to Spain only in May after a lack of opportunities at the senior level with Les Blues, has been on the periphery with Manchester City this season. In Ramos’ absence, Spain lacks a pivotal figurehead and will thereby look to the collective – the four chosen centre-backs in the squad have a combined 21 appearances between them.

READ | Euro 2020: Ronaldo, Lewandowski & co... A last hurrah for these veteran stars?

Spain will continue to adopt possession-oriented football under Enrique with Thiago Alcantara, Koke and Sergio Busquets pivotal in midfield. Busquets remains the only tether from the victorious Spanish World Cup team from 2010, and the Barcelona midfielder has rediscovered his form in recent months.

Alvaro Morata, Gerard Moreno, Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres provide the mobility and goals in attack to complement the midfield. Moreno has been in superb form for his club side Villareal during the calendar year with 23 goals and nine assists.

Squad: Goalkeepers: David de Gea, Unai Simon, Robert Sanchez; Defenders: Jose Gaya, Jordi Alba, Pau Torres, Aymeric Laporte, Eric Garcia, Diego Llorente, Cesar Azpilicueta; Midfielders: Sergio Busquets, Rodri Hernandez, Marcos Llorente, Thiago Alcantara, Koke, Dani Olmo, Fabian Ruiz, Ferran Torres, Adama Traore, Pablo Sarabia; Forwards: Alvaro Morata, Mikel Oyarzabal, Gerard Moreno, Pedri.

Manager: Luis Enrique

FIFA ranking: 6

Last 3 Euros: 2016 round of 16; 2012, 2008 champion

Last 5 matches: Wins 3, draws 2, goals for 13, goals against 4

- POLAND -

Last edition’s quarterfinalist Poland finished on top of its Euro qualifiers in a group where four of the five teams were ranked several rungs below it. Among the table-toppers in qualification, the White and Reds had scored the least number of goals (18) in a six-team group and had to largely rely on individual quality to see them over the line.

While Poland had a positive qualification campaign, all was not well within the setup. The Polish Football Federation president sacked coach Jerzy Brzęczek in January and replaced him with former Basel manager Paulo Sousa, who hasn’t endured much success in his recent managerial stints. Brzęczek had come under criticism for the team’s style of play and was also singled out publicly by the team’s skipper and star striker Robert Lewandowski, who questioned his tactics in failing to get the best out of the team after the 0-2 defeat to Italy in November.

Poland’s Robert Lewandowski is in the midst of his best-ever scoring run of his career. The frontman has 53 goals from 46 appearances for club and country in the 2020-21 season to add to the 59 goals from the previous one.   -  Getty Images

 

The task for Sousa will be to get the best out of Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski, who is in the midst of his best-ever scoring run of his career. The frontman has 53 goals from 46 appearances for club and country in the 2020-21 season to add to the 59 goals from the previous one. After a disappointing group-stage exit at the World Cup three years ago, the team’s fortune at the Euros will largely hinge on the 32-year-old’s form and fitness.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny, Łukasz Skorupski; Defenders: Jan Bednarek, Bartosz Bereszynski, Kamil Glik, Michał Helik, Tomasz Kedziora, Kamil Piatkowski, Tymoteusz Puchacz, Maciej Rybus; Midfielders: Paweł Dawidowicz, Przemysław Frankowski, Kamil Jozwiak, Mateusz Klich, Kacper Kozłowski, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Karol Linetty, Jakub Moder, Przemysław Płacheta, Piotr Zielinski; Forwards: Dawid Kownacki, Robert Lewandowski, Arkadiusz Milik, Karol Swiderski, Jakub Swierczok.

Manager: Paulo Sousa

FIFA ranking: 21

Last 3 Euros: 2016 quarterfinals; 2012, 2008 group stage

Last 5 matches: Wins 1, losses 2, draws 2, goals for 9, goals against 8

- SWEDEN -

Sweden will be keen to build on the promise shown from its quarterfinal finish at the 2018 World Cup, with second place in Group E up for grabs with an unsettled Poland in the mix.

Janne Andersson has worked well with limited resources to achieve a second successive qualification for Sweden for a major tournament. In the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era, Andersson built a team with defensive organisation at the heart of it. But as the matches against higher-ranked nations came in thick and fast after the coronavirus lockdown, the Blue and Yellow struggled for form and consistency as they were relegated from the UEFA Nations League.

READ | Group D preview: England & Croatia in a group of dark horses

Ibrahimovic, at 39, made a stunning return to the national team in March after his retirement in 2016 and was supposed to be the inspiration in attack, but an injury has ruled him out. Alexander Isak, who has in the past been compared to Ibrahimovic, has rediscovered his scoring touch with Real Sociedad in La Liga after a failed stint at Borussia Dortmund.

The 21-year-old will be expected to step up on the big stage if he is to rebuild the hype around him. Jordan Larsson, the son of Swedish legend Henrik, was named as Ibrahimovic’s replacement in the squad, and the 23-year-old is coming off an excellent season for Spartak Moscow in Russia.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Karl-Johan Johnsson, Kristoffer Nordfeldt, Robin Olsen; Defenders: Emil Krafth, Victor Lindelöf, Marcus Danielson, Pierre Bengtsson, Ludwig Augustinsson, Pontus Jansson, Filip Helander, Mikael Lustig, Andreas Granqvist; Midfielders: Emil Forsberg, Ken Sema, Viktor Claesson, Dejan Kulusevski, Sebastian Larsson, Albin Ekdal, Kristoffer Olsson, Jens-Lys Cajuste, Robin Quaison, Mattias Svanberg, Gustav Svensson; Forwards: Marcus Berg, Alexander Isak, Jordan Larsson.

Manager: Janne Andersson

FIFA ranking: 18

Last 3 Euros: 2016, 2012, 2008 group stage

Last 5 matches: Wins 4, losses 1, , goals for 9, goals against 4

- SLOVAKIA -

Another team with an outside chance of making it past the group stages will be Slovakia. If it is to make it a second successive knockout appearance in the Euros, it will most likely have to be as one of the best third-placed sides.

Slovakia was in danger of missing out on qualification before a managerial change paid dividends. Stefan Tarkovic, who was put in charge on a caretaker basis last October, helped the team beat Northern Ireland in extra-time to win a playoff game and earned himself a permanent role. The 48-year-old has picked an experience-heavy squad with 11 players from the 2016 team making the cut for the 2020 edition.

Captain and record goalscorer Marek Hamsik, considered among the most feared attacking midfielders in Europe during his time with Napoli, is the heartbeat of this team. Slovakia rode on the 33-year-old’s goals and assists to reach the Euro championship and will once again seek inspiration from its star footballer.

Captain and record goalscorer Marek Hamsik, considered among the most feared attacking midfielders in Europe during his time with Napoli, is the heartbeat of the Slovakian team. PHOTO: AP   -  AP

 

Inter Milan centre-back Milan Skriniar will be tasked with shoring up the defence. Skriniar is coming off an impressive club season where he helped Inter win the Serie A. Martin Dubravka has grown in confidence as a shot-stopper at Newcastle United, where he has single-handedly helped the club win points this season.

On the eve of the squad announcement, Tarkovic lost young forward David Strelec to injury and replaced him with Ivan Schranz. At 33, Michal Duris, who scored the extra-time winner in the playoff game, will be the focal point in attack.

Squad: Goalkeepers: Martin Dubravka, Marek Rodak, Dusan Kuciak; Defenders: David Hancko, Tomaš Hubocan, Martin Koscelnik, Peter Pekarík, Lubomír Satka, Milan Skriniar, Martin Valjent, Denis Vavro; Midfielders: Laszlo Benes, Ondrej Duda, Jan Gregus, Marek Hamsík, Lukas Haraslin, Jakub Hromada, Patrik Hrosovsky, Juraj Kucka, Stanislav Lobotka, Tomas Suslov, Vladimír Weiss; Forwards: Robert Bozeník, Michal Duris, Robert Mak, Ivan Schranz.

Manager: Stefan Tarkovic

FIFA ranking: 36

Last 3 Euros: 2016 round of 16; 2012, 2008 did not qualify

Last 5 matches: Wins 1, losses 1, draws 3, goals for 5, goals against 6

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