The second match of Group E began with Slovakia on top of the table thanks to their win over Poland earlier in the day. Before the tournament began, most would have expected Spain to qualify, with Poland and Sweden fighting for the other spot. However, Slovakia threw a spanner in the works, and the Group is now open for all.
Spain at home can be a daunting proposition for any team, and Sweden was under pressure almost immediately. This Spanish team does not have players like Iniesta, Xavi, Fernando Torres and David Villa. Sergio Ramos was not even in the squad. But within minutes, the Spanish DNA was visible.
By the half-hour mark, Spain had dominated the game and had more than decent chances to take lead. Sweden seemed caught between chasing shadows and trying hard to have some semblance of ‘playing’ the game. Swedish fans would have been happy with just one thing: the score still read 0-0.
It was nothing short of extraordinary when stats nerds revealed that the Swedish forward line of Alexander Isak and Marcus Berg had not touched the ball after half an hour of play. The Spanish midfielder was a mix of a delightful orchestra and a police band; disciplined, giving no breathing space to their opposition while playing some delightful pieces.
It was a minor win for Sweden when they got their first corner in the 36th minute. Seconds later, the ball was back with Spain.
A minute or so later, Morata had the entire goal in front of him. And for a change, he was not offside. Yet, inexplicably, he managed to miss the target by some distance. This was the only aspect of Spain that was not like the good old days: their finishing had let them down until now and would remain a concern for the majority of the match.
And they were almost punished most cruelly when Isak, who finally got a touch, almost scored. His shot was blocked on the line, and the ball then hit the post before being gladly caught by the Spanish keeper.
The first half ended with 80% possession, but Spain had nothing much to show for it. In fact, it was Sweden who would consider themselves unlucky for not being in the lead.
The second half began with Spain trying to dominate like the first half. But to Sweden’s credit, they did not allow that. By the 60th minute, Sweden had had another chance to take the lead. Yet, Berg missed a sitter, just like Morata in the first half. Apart from some delightful mid-field play by Spain, this match was also becoming notable for chances missed. The Spanish manager, Luis Enrique, realised that he needed to make some changes. In came Thiago Alcantara and Pablo Sarabia for Rodrigo and Morata respectively. Gerard Moreno and Oyarzabal, but despite several more close calls, Spain could not get the decisive goal. Sweden had done themselves proud, and on another day, they could have easily won the game too. But today, in front of a home crowd, it was Spain who would be left ruing their chances.
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