Spain put five past disappointing Slovak side to set up last-16 clash against Croatia in Copenhagan
Two own goals help hosts on their way to record-equalling victory in the Euros
If you are having a misfiring tournament, if you cannot score goals and your manager has been cast as Public Enemy No1 for his failure to select a national hero, then it seems there is a simple way out: play Slovakia in your critical group game.
As gifts go, this game might as well have been wrapped up in tissue paper with a bow attached. It was not just that Stefan Tarkovic’s side made England look a paradigm of attacking application. It was more that for a team set on defending the one point with which they might qualify, Slovakia were completely hopeless at the defending bit.
Mind, it took a while for Luis Enrique’s team to appreciate that they had been granted the equivalent of a bye. After missing a succession of reasonable chances in the first half hour – Pablo Sarabia, Pedri and Alvaro Morata all sharing levels of guilt – they gained a penalty. It came after Jakub Hromada attempted to clear, missed the ball entirely and instead hacked at Koke’s legs. Morata, the man largely blamed by the Spanish public for their country’s lack of firepower, stepped up to take it. But Martin Dubravka saved brilliantly. Moments later he did it again, athletically keeping out another shot by the unfortunate Morata.
But the Newcastle keeper’s place atop the Slovakian sporting Mount Olympus did not last long. For a reason not easy to fathom, the Lech Poznan centre-back Lubomir Satka sent a wayward pass across the front of the area, which fell to Sarabia. He hammered a shot against the bar. It bounced high into the fierce southern Spanish sun. Dubravka appeared to be in control, striding back apparently to push the ball to safety. Or so it seemed. Instead he swatted it comically into the back of his own net.
His attempt at redemption was not wholly successful, either. Just before half-time, Spain won a corner, which was half cleared. The ball was played back into the area by Cesar Azipilicueta. Dubravka chased after it, but Gerard Moreno beat him to it. As the Slovak keeper hovered in no-man’s-land, the Villarreal player flicked the ball back over him and Aymeric Laporte planted the cross powerfully into the corner of the net.
As mistake-ridden fare often proves to be, it was a hugely entertaining game. And as it went on, Spain’s control became more purposeful. Enrique, as casually chic on the touchline as Robrto Mancini is well tailored, had promised the cork was about to erupt from Spain’s prosecco bottle. He had a point. The passes were now no longer mere self-indulgence, there was an end product to all their possession, the Spanish bubbles were finally emerging. And, after a lengthy passage of interchanges, Jordi Alba received the ball and crossed to Sarabia, who spanked a lovely left-footed shot beyond the hapless Dubravka. This was a proper goal, forged by proper Spanish football.
As was the fourth, beautifully dispatched by the substitute Ferran Torres with his first touch of the game. And what a first touch it was: a back-heeled flick of some panache. True, the fifth was less elevated, another hapless own goal, this time Milan Skriniar scooping the ball into the net when it was surely easier to clear. It was somehow appropriate for the biggest mismatch of the tournament. And it meant, Spain had arrived at the tournament.
Now they advance to Copenhagen to face Croatia in the last 16. Two possession-addicted former contenders anxious to prove they are not on the wane: there might be a few passes involved in that.
As it happened
What to make of Spain?
Sorry to sound like a broken record BUT...Slovakia were poor, gifted them the opener (Dubravka's horror own goal) and at least two others with some shocking defending and overall lacklustre performance.
The one thing we can say about Luis Enrique's side is that the result will give them confidence heading into the second round BUT, and it seems weird to write this after they've won 5-0, I don't think they have solved their problems up front.
FULL TIME: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
That's that. Spain scored five - thanks in part to some very poor defending from a disappointing Slovakia side. They moved through the gears and grew in confidence and will face Croatia in the last-16.
92 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
News from St Petersburg: Sweden are 3-2 up so they now top the group and Spain will finish second and face Croatia in Copenhagen.
90 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
This match is meandering to the finish. It hasn't really been a contest and Slovakia have allowed Spain to grow into confidence.
87 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
Traore has provided more pace and intensity down the right since he came on - he's such a good player to have on the bench.
His fellow sub Oyarzabal dances into the box and fires a left-foot shot wide.
85 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
Over the past hour the mood surrounding Spain has completely changed - a lot of that is to do with just how awful Slovakia have been - but scoring fave against anyone will send you through to the next round full of confidence.
81 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
Poland have equalised against Sweden - it's 2-2 in St Petersburg - so as it stands Spain will top the group and will play their second round match at Hampden Park and face a third-placed side.
80 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
Adama Traore and Mikel Oyazabal are on for Cesar Azpilicueta and Gerard Moreno.
Alba gets in another great cross which on one can get on the end of and that should have been six.
Not the prettiest of goals
And it's been given as an won goal, not credited to Pau Torres...
74 mins: Slovakia 0-5 Spain
Spain are finally enjoying themselves - they've played well BUT it has to be said Slovakia are putting in the worst performance of the tournament so far.
GOOOOOOAAAALLLL!!! Slovakia 0-5 Spain
That was probably the worst goal you will see this tournament.
From a corner the ball is cleared then comes back into the box. There then is a game of pinball near the six-yard box - Slovakia having a number of chances to get rid - and Pau Torres gets on the end of it before Kucka puts the ball into his own net. The game's second own goal...
70 mins: Slovakia 0-4 Spain
Spain make two chances as well.
Sergio Busquets is off for Thiago and Eric Garica makes way for Pau Torres.
69 mins: Slovakia 0-4 Spain
Double change for Slovakia: Tomas Suslov and Vladimir Weiss come on for Lukas Haraslin and Robert Mak.
67 mins: Slovakia 0-4 Spain
Having questioned that substitution the man who came on finds the back of the net with his first contribution. Spain went short with a corner, Sarabia gets to the byline and puts in a low cross to the near post that Torres hits first-time into the net with a backheel flick - easy.
GOOOOOOAAAALLLL!!! Slovakia 0-4 Spain
Torres scores with him first touch!
66 mins: Slovakia 0-3 Spain
Change for Spain - Morata is off for Ferran Torres.
Bit of a strange one - Morata is desperate for a goal, Spain are well on top, wouldn't the remaining 30 mins or so have been a great chance for the striker to find the back of the net?
64 mins: Slovakia 0-3 Spain
Slovakia started this half brightly BUT that third goal has taken the wind out of their sails. The past five minutes have been much like the first 45 - Spain are passing the ball around without much pressure from their opponents and you fancy that the hosts will get another before the end of the 90 minutes.
61 mins: Slovakia 0-3 Spain
It's now Sweden 2-1 against Poland. Lewandowski getting one back for the Poles.
Silky Spain finally show up
58 mins: Slovakia 0-3 Spain
Sweden are now 2-0 against Poland and they and Spain are taking a grip on Group E.
As it stands Spain will finish in second and face Croatia.
GOOOOOAAAAAALLLL!!! Slovakia 0-3 Spain
Welcome to the tournament, Spain!
That was more like it - they play great one-touch football before getting the ball out left, Alba puts in a cross that Sarabia meets first time and passes into the far corner. Easy, effective and great to watch.
54 mins: Slovakia 0-2 Spain
Duris has looked lively since coming on - he makes a good run in behind the Spain defence and his effort (it looks like he was trying to lift the ball over the keeper Simon,) goes wide.
52 mins: Slovakia 0-2 Spain
Spain have settled down this half - they are trying, and for the most part succeeding, in controlling the tempo of the game. Slovakia are playing with more intensity but they have a mountain to climb.
50 mins: Slovakia 0-2 Spain
Once again Luis Enrique is going full Marcelo Bielsa - sitting on a drinks cooler at what is one of the biggest technical areas in the world (you could have a game of five-a-side inside it, it's that big...).
48 mins: Slovakia 0-2 Spain
Slovakia are seeing a fair bit of the ball in the opening exchanges of this half - no chances created but already they've been more of a threat this half than in the entirety of the first 45 minutes (which would be hard, tbf...)
45 mins: Slovakia 0-2 Spain
We're back under way in Sevile and there's no great shock to see Slovakia make two changes - Duris and Lobotka are on for Duda and Hromada. Duris will give them more attacking threat.
Goal (involvement) machine
As it stands
Spain are going through with five points in second place in Group E.
The tournament of the own goal
Laporte's international opener
HALF-TIME: Slovakia 0-2 Spain
It's now comfortable for Spain. For long periods the same old failings were evident - they were easy to defend against and unable to convert the few chances they created - but thanks to that bizarre Dubravka own goal and the Laporte header the hosts are now in control.
As for Slovakia, they have been very disappointing - no goal threat, no ambition and deserve to be two-down at the break.
GOOOOOAAAAALLL!!! Slovakia 0-2 Spain
Laporte's first international goal after another error from Dúbravka.
From a Koke corner the ball comes out to Pedri on the edge of the box. He dinks the ball over the defence to Moreno - the Slovakia keeper comes out but is caught in no-man's land and the Spain striker crosses for Laporte to head well into the net.
46 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Moreno has a shot from just inside the box but it is straight at Dúbravka - I think that's his first real touch since his own goal.
43 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
There's a 90-second period where Spain pass the ball well, it's neat, technically good BUT all rather predictable and easy for Slovakia to defend until Sarabia miscontrols on the edge of the area.
42 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Spain are playing keep-ball but it's all in front of the Slovakia defence. When Slovakia do have the ball they are offering no threat at all as a result this is far from an entertaining match so far.
39 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Free kick for Spain inside Slovakia's half - it's a poor delivery from Sarabia and Hamsik and co clear their lines easily.
'As goalkeeping errors go, that's a howler'
36 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Duda looks miles offside the linesman waits for him to miss a one on one before he lifts his flag, the tease...
34 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Azpilicueta is getting forward a lot and causing problems. Once again he gets to the byline and creates chaos in the Slovakia defence.
32 mins: Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Slovakia have been very timid so far - they've committed no one forward and for their tactics to work out they really needed to be solid at the back. A howler like that from your keeper isn't part of the script.
We have yet to see Hamsik on the ball so far...
GOOOOOAAAALLL!!! Slovakia 0-1 Spain
Spain were struggling to score so it's no huge surprise that it's an own goal that ensures the hosts take the lead.
It's a howler from Dúbravka. Sarabia tries his luck from 25 yards and hits the crossbar. The Newcastle keeper tries to then knock the rebound over the bar for a corner BUT only succeeds in palming it into his own net.
Another Spain miss
24 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
It's hot out there - hot enough for a drinks break. So from the first 25 minutes we've learned nothing new.
Spain are dominating possession and still cannot score goals from open play or from 12 yards.
Five missed penalties in row for Spain
19 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
There's another huge chance for Spain - firstly Morata cannot get his head on the end of the cross then Pedri cannot get his foot on the ball at the back post. They cannot keep on missing, can they?
18 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
Pedri, so often this tournament Spain's most creative spark, plays in a fine ball into the box but Sarabia cannot connect.
16 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
Spain are enjoying the usual levels of possession but once again are looking cumbersome and there's a sense of deja vu...
MISSED PENALTY!!! Slovakia 0-0 Spain
Great save from Dúbravka - Morata got a clean enough strike by the Slovakia keeper dived to his right and saved well.
That's five missed penalties in a row now for Spain. Disaster.
PENALTY FOR SPAIN: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
VAR makes its first appearance - Hromada makes a hash of a challenge on Koke and it's a clearcut spotkick.
7 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
Sarabia puts in a cross from the right with his left peg Dúbravka comes and collects well under pressure.
5 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
Morata gets in behind the Slovakia defence thank to a Moreno pass. He puts in a cross that Dúbravka does well to deal with. Lively start from the striker who needs a goal.
Slovakia are defending very deep, never a huge fan of that, it's inviting Spain attacks BUT it worked for Sweden in the first match.
2 mins: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
No goals in this match but there's an early goal in the other match - Sweden are a goal up thanks to Forsberg. That's good for Spain because if Poland win Spain must win to get through.
1 min: Slovakia 0-0 Spain
We're under way in Seville. Can Spain get the win and put in a good performance?
Spain are in white and Slovakia are in blue.
National anthems have been sung
Slovakia sung their catch tune with gusto - that bodes well.
The Spanish national song doesn't have any words but the crowd hummed along raucously.
The teams are out on the pitch
And we're about to get under way.
Hamsik is Slovakia's talisman
And owner of consistently the best collection of haircuts in football over the past two decades.
Feeling hot, hot, hot
It's 31 degrees in Seville...none of that rubbish British weather in Spain.
Luis Enrique keeping his cards close to his chest
The Spain coach says...
"Slovakia make it very hard to score against them, and a draw would also take them through. They're very difficult to break down through the central channel because they crowd that area with lots of players. This match is going to be trickier than most people expect. We have had nothing but complications in our first two matches and we are going to be facing very similar complications again. But we’re ready.”
Slovakia are confident
Štefan Tarkovič, Slovakia coach says...
"Sweden and Poland were the favourites in our matches against them, but Spain are top favourites and not only in our group but in the whole tournament. We must prepare well for the match. I still believe we can be successful."
Spain fans look happy enough
Will they be smiling in two hours time?
Enrique places faith in youth
Eni Aluko and Gary Neville are on ITV
And both say "this isn't the Spain of old" - you can say that again...
Eni goes on to say: "They are creating chances but are predictable and Slovakia are likely to make it tough for them today."
Gary adds: "They still produce great players but it’s a weaker Spain as it is a weaker Barcelona and Real Madrid sides. This is a Spain team in transition.”
Spain struggling to win at tournaments
Here's the Spain side in black and white
SPAIN SIDE TO FACE SLOVAKIA: Simón, Azpilicueta, García, Laporte, Alba, Koke, Busquets, González, Sarabia, Morata, Moreno, Subs: De Gea, Torres, Llorente, Thiago Alcántara, Torres, Sánchez, Gayà, Rodri, Ruiz, Olmo, Traoré, Oyarzabal
Here's the Slovakia side
SLOVAKIA XI TO FACE SPAIN: Dúbravka, Pekarík, Satka, Skriniar, Hubocan, Kucka, Hromada, Haraslín, Hamsik, Mak, Duda, Subs: Valjent, Gregus, Weiss, Suslov, Bénes, Kuciak, Hrosovsky, Hancko, Duris, Lobotka, Rodák, Koscelnik
Spanish side in picture form
Spain name their side
Have a watch of the video announcement - not only do you get the chance to find out that Busquets does indeed start for the first time this tournament BUT you get a retro 1990's rock guitar musical background (how did Spain do in Eurovision this year...?)
Before we focus completely on the Spain vs Slovakia match
Let's take a sneaky look back at England's march to the second round (they'll find out who their opponents will be this evening when Group F concludes). Yes, the win over Czech Republic may not have been the display to get all the 'we're gonna win it and football's gonna come home' crowd out in force, but their games have brought seven points and three clean sheets - that's not to be sniffed at.
It also highlighted the lack of adoration for Raheem Sterling - the man with all of England's goals so far and a player who, going on the past three games, is key for this England side.
As our columnist Jamie Carragher writes...
This is reflective of a strange, general reluctance to acknowledge how good Sterling is for England. Whenever suggested teams are proposed, those championing the case for others’ inclusion seem to view Sterling’s position as vulnerable, or worthy of debate. It really isn’t.
Read the rest of Jamie's piece here: Raheem Sterling has become England's most important player - so why is he being taken for granted?
Before the starting XIs are named
Here’s what we don know about the likely lineups.
Injured winger Ivan Schranz will remain unavailable for Slovakia, while defender Denis Vavro is also a no go having tested positive for Covid.
For the Spaniards Sergio Busquets is expected to start after his positive Covid let meant he wasn’t available for the draws against Sweden and Poland. Also likely to play are Cesar Azpilicueta, Thiago Alcantara and Mikel Oyarzabal.
These teams have faced each other six times
Here’s how the head-to-head record stands...
Slovakia have just the one win to their name - back in 2014 in a Euros qualifier.
This is the first time the sides have faced each other at a major tournament
Spain have won all three of the matches between the two sides on home soil with a aggregate score of 11-2. (That last stat will places Spanish fans hoping their side works out how to score this evening…)
Underwhelming Spain under pressure
If there’s one word that best sums up Spain so far in this tournament it’s probably ‘underwhelming’. Two matches, two draws and performances that displayed all their attributes - confident on the ball and able to pass it around for fun - but also their huge Achilles heel, namely, their inability to stick the ball in the back of the net.
Against Sweden Luis Enrique’s side dominated, especially in the first half, but never really looked like scoring. It was the tournament’s first goalless draw and more than hinted at a lack of a a lack of a killer touch in front of goal.
Their second match against Poland at least saw them score, but once again for all their possession they looked slow and predictable on the ball and, more often than not, easy to defend against in the final third.
They face a Slovakia side knowing they need to get that elusive win to guarantee safe passage to the last 16. Not just that they need a performance to go with it to suggest they are not just making up the numbers and are genuine title contenders.
What could count against them this evening is the fact their opponents only need a draw to ensure they make it through to the knockout stages. They beat a 10-man Poland in their opening match before a 1-0 defeat to Sweden last time out.
Spain fullback Cesar Azpilicueta is only too aware of the task facing his side and says they will leave nothing out on the pitch in their bid to make it through to the second round.
"It's an all-or-nothing game so we have to approach it with the confidence that we will go through," Azpilicueta said.
"We have a clear objective and it's important we have the right mentality.”
Stay here to find out if Spain can find their scoring boots or whether the tournament will have its first big-name casualty.