Spain unable to break down dogged Sweden as lack of clinical finishing hurts hosts

·24-min read
Moreno heads straight at Olsen in the Sweden goal as another chance goes begging for Spain - REUTERS
Moreno heads straight at Olsen in the Sweden goal as another chance goes begging for Spain - REUTERS

When the final whistle sounded, it was clear who felt they had achieved most from this goalless encounter. Up in the stands the several hundred Swedish fans who had made their way south through relentless pandemic obstacles were doing a collective jig of delight. They were dancing, in fact, like dancing queens. You could understand why: they had just witnessed a masterclass in backs-to-the-wall defending, a glorious affirmation that, if it is done by your team, spoiling can be as uplifting as creativity.

For Spain, inevitably, the feeling was very different, and particularly for their manager. After a build-up in which half of Madrid seemed anxious to put him in the stocks for the treasonous refusal to pick Sergio Ramos, Luis Enrique must have been hoping for redemption. Instead, a resilient, battling, determined display by a Swedish team so senior half of them would qualify for the veterans’ competition, left his team subdued in Group E.

The expectation before kick-off had been very different. Felipe VI, the king of Spain, had turned up expecting to celebrate a Euro 2020 victory. Instead Sweden came with a plan, which in truth appeared not to extend beyond camping out on the edge of their own area. But it was a plan that worked. “The longer the game went on, the more frustrated they became,” Victor Lindelof, the Manchester United defender, said. “That was good for us.”

Players vie for the header during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group E football match between Spain and Sweden at La Cartuja Stadium in Sevilla  - AFP
Players vie for the header during the UEFA EURO 2020 Group E football match between Spain and Sweden at La Cartuja Stadium in Sevilla - AFP

How the 12,000 locals in attendance tried to extort the Spanish into action. They soundtracked much of the game by battering on the empty Covid-restricted seats in front of them, creating a thunderous rumble. It was not enough. Their team might have had 79 per cent of the possession but the only surprise in that statistic was that Sweden had as much as 21 per cent. The truth is, this is not the Spain of 10 years ago. The ability to put a finishing flourish to relentless tiki-taka seems to have slipped from their tradition. Plus the few occasions when Sweden actually took possession was when their hosts ceded it in a manner that Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva would have found ridiculous. Worse, when they worked themselves into good positions, they could not seize advantage.

“What went wrong?” Enrique said. “We controlled the game and had enough chances to win, the problem was we didn’t take those chances. We can all see it.” He was right there. As when the industrious Koke twice stole into the Swedish area, only to blast cunning passes from Dani Olmo over the bar. The worst Spanish transgressor, however, was Alvaro Morata. Finding himself in time and space after Marcus Danielson misread Jordi Alba’s pass, he pushed the ball carefully past the diving Robin Olsen. Unfortunately for the increasingly anxious Enrique, his shot also drifted beyond the post. It was a miss horribly familiar to anyone who saw him play for Chelsea.

Spain almost paid for this inability to finish off their opponents when Alexander Isak made a rare expedition into the Spanish box, deceived Aymeric Laporte and shot past Unai Simon. Marcos Llorente miscued his clearance off the line and it spun off his boot apparently heading goalwards. Much to Spanish relief, it hit the inside of the post and bounced into the goalkeeper’s gloves.

Marcus Berg with the miss of the tournament - it was the one good opportunity Sweden had to steal all the points in Seville  - REUTERS
Marcus Berg with the miss of the tournament - it was the one good opportunity Sweden had to steal all the points in Seville - REUTERS

Morata, however, failed to heed the warning and missed again with equal ineptitude at the start of the second half. His waywardness was put into perspective soon after by a properly hapless miss by Sweden’s Marcus Berg. Isak tricked his way past three defenders and squared the ball to his colleague waiting unattended a couple of yards from goal. Perhaps spooked by the ease with which the chance had been forged, he scooped his shot high.

In what seemed a most oddly self-destructive substitution, Janne Andersson, the Sweden coach, promptly removed Isak, claiming he needed fresh legs to track back. As he left the field, the Spanish fans tried to rouse their team for a last thrust with lusty rounds of “ole”. Pedri – the youngest Spaniard ever to play in the Euros, aged 18 – tried to respond to the prompting, darting about in front of the solid yellow wall of Swedish defenders.

Enrique was by now frantically semaphoring instructions and Gerard Moreno, coming on as a late substitute to huge applause, almost brought relief when he steered a header goalwards. But Olsen, as he had been all game, was alert, saving magnificently. He did it again a moment later to deny Pablo Sarabia, another substitute. For Enrique, and for the whole of Spain, it was one of those nights.

09:00 PM

FULL TIME: Spain 0-0 Sweden

The tournament's first 0-0 and you have to wonder how Spain didn't win that.

Yes, they were a little predictable in the second half but they had enough chances to win. Sweden defended well and got the point you strongly suspect was their sole aim this match.

08:58 PM

94 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Corner for Spain, can they make this count?

The answer is NO - it's a deep corner and the ball goes harmlessly off for a goal kick.

08:57 PM

93 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Alba again gets in behind the Sweden defence (again courtesy of a Pedri pass), his cross comes unexpectedly to Sarabia at the back post and the ball hits him rather than the other way round, Olsen gladly collecting it in the Sweden goal.

08:54 PM

90 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Now or never for Spain and it's so nearly now!

Sarabia, for the third time since he's come on, delivers a good cross from the right and Moreno's header is straight at the keeper - Olsen didn't really have to move, saving it with his feet. He should have score.

There will be six added minutes...

08:51 PM

89 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Alba gets in behind and crosses for Moreno who tries a backflick that doesn't work.

08:50 PM

The second half in one Tweet

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08:49 PM

86 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Spain are passing the ball in front of the Swedish defence - easy to negotiate.

Koke - very impressive - is off Fabian Ruiz is on.

08:47 PM

84 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

At half time there was no way this match was going to finish goalless...But now it's a case of you struggling to work how how a goal will be scored...

08:46 PM

81 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Changes foe Sweden - Olsson (who's been brilliant) and Cajuste is on. Forsberg is also off and is replaced by Bengtsson

08:45 PM

80 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

STAT ATTACK - Spain have had 13 attempts with only three on target to Sweden's four attempts.

08:42 PM

78 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Sarabia has looked lively since coming on and he puts in another good ball which Olsen comes out to punch. Spain need someone to step up and do the extraordinary to win this - they'd played safe this second half.

There are some tired legs out there and there's a bit of a stoppage while some cramped legs are seen to. Ouch.

08:40 PM

77 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

It's all a bit 'samey' from Spain - it's getting easier for Sweden to see off the attacking threat (of which there hasn't been much this half).

08:39 PM

75 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

No much more than 15 minutes to go - are we about to see the first 0-0 of the tournament?

08:38 PM

73 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

More changes for Spain.

Torres and Olmo make way for Moreno and Oyarzabal

For Sweden Lustig is off for Newcastle's Kraft.

08:35 PM

71 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Spain are getting frustrated here - they have lost their spark and, as with the majority of the match, Sweden are more than happy to sit back.

The sub Sarabia gets to the right byline and his cutback is well defended. Spain win it back and Llorente this time pulls the ball back, Olmo's shot is well blocked.

08:33 PM

That Berg miss...

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08:32 PM

67 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

There have been no clearcut chances for the hosts this half - worrying for Enrique.

Berg (who so should have scored) is off for Quaison and far more surprisingly Isak (who has looked a threat every time he's had the ball) is off for Claesson. That last substitution is bizarre...

08:28 PM

65 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Sweden are defending crosses well and are growing in confidence.

Enrique has seen enough this half and makes two changes.

Thiago and Sarabia are on - Rodri and Morata makes way.

08:25 PM

62 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Spain should be one down - that miss may hurt Berg and the Swedes.

08:24 PM

61 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Isak looks like such a good player - he starts the move with a fine ball to Berg. He then gets the ball back, showing great close control in the box before crossing for Berg at the back post and the Swedish striker misses when it looked easier to score...what a chance.

08:22 PM

59 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Alba is forward once again on the left but he miscontrols it and Sweden win the throw - that sort of sums up the past few minutes for the hosts. They haven't the same intensity of the first 45 and Sweden are finding this easy at the moment.

08:19 PM

57 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Sweden continue to sit in and frustrate. Spain haven't started this half with the same tempo they played the first.

08:18 PM

55 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Lustig sees yellow (card, not his shirt) for time wasting. Slightly harsh, you can understand the way his side are playing while he might want to eat into the remaining 35 or so minutes.

08:17 PM

Pass Masters

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08:15 PM

52 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

The second half has picked up where the first finished. Spain are seeing all of the ball, with Sweden happy to sit back and soak up the pressure. Olmo is running in behind but Sweden are that far back that there's no space for the forward to run into.

08:12 PM

49 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Morata then has a half chance to make up for his first-half miss. He gets the ball on the left of the box but pulls his shot just wide.

08:11 PM

48 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Isak does well to win a free-kick 10 yards inside the Spain half - he turned well and induced the foul.

Seb Larsson puts the ball deep into the Spain box, Lustig beats the offside line and has a wonderful chance to put a dangerous ball into the six-yard box BUT instead does a good impression of Bambi on ice and trips over the ball.

08:09 PM

46 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

No changes from either side - shocked Sweden haven't added an extra midfielder...

08:07 PM

45 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Who here thinks this will stay 0-0? Those of you with your hands up, I'd like to know why!

The second half is under way...

08:04 PM

Here's that Isak chance

Very close to an own goal from Llorente...

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07:54 PM

HALF TIME: Spain 0-0 Sweden

It's 0-0 but it's been all Spain.

Olsen has played well in the Swedish goal and the hosts should be at least one-up by now, not least with that Morata chance going begging - he should have scored late in the half.

Sweden have got in behind the Spain defence once and Isak - the highly rated youngster - had a shot cleared off the line onto the post. Spain deserved that bit of luck though.

07:49 PM

43 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Rodri clearly decides he's had enough of the intricate passing of the first 40 or so mins and decides to launch a optimistic shot from at least 30 yards. He does well to win a corner. From the set piece the ball is cleared before coming back to Olmo in the box and his shot is well saved by Olsen. Not sure how Spain aren't one goal to the good so far.

07:46 PM

41 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Sweden nearly score (well against the run of play).

The first real sniff Isak has had sees the young star have a shot cleared off the line by Marcos Llorenteonto the post. It was the first time he had got in behind the defence. That came out of nowhere.

07:44 PM

37 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

WHAT A CHANCE - Danielson completely misreads a ball from the left into the Swedish box and Morata has a one-on-one.

He's calm and composed and tries to slot it in the far corner, only managing to hit it wide. He has to at least hit the target. You feel that for all their industry and creativity it could be the lack of goals that proves to be Spain's undoing (in the long run) and that effort was Exhibit A in that argument.

07:41 PM

35 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

SHOCK HORROR - Sweden have got in behind the Spanish backline and have themselves an attacking throw.

Seb Larsson launches a huge throw and wins a corner - the former Sunderland man is a fine dead-ball specialist but he cannot create a chance with his side's first corner.

07:38 PM

33 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

The hosts are still playing keep-ball, moving it around and moving the Swedish plays over the pitch - they go left, then come back and go right. This time Forsberg is having none of it and intercepts.

07:36 PM

31 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Sweden make a rare foray into the Spain half - the hosts press and win the ball back and counter.

Sweden have two up front and one of them is pointless (through no fault of their own) but perhaps an extra midfielder would be more useful, the way this game is going. Spain are in total control.

07:34 PM

28 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Spain are patient - no shock there. They are playing keep ball and are willing to wait for the killer pass, no rushing with this side. Koke is playing well - making some good runs, he makes a Scholes-esque late run into the box and gets on the end of a cross from the left. His first-time attempt goes over. The opener is surely coming...?!

07:30 PM

24 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

The set piece goes short and once again Sweden clear well. But Spain win it back high and can launch another attack but a foul from Morata gives Sweden a welcome respite.

07:29 PM

23 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

This is the most high-profile game of attack vs defence I've seen in a while on the international stage.

Torres and Llorente combine well down the right and win another corner...

07:27 PM

21 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Koke gets into the box and has enough room to get a tow-poke in that goes just wide - Sweden survive again. You get the sense an opening goal cannot be far off at this rate.

07:26 PM

From our man in Seville, Jim White...

Jim White is at the match for Telegraph Sport and has sent this brilliant pic. Jim writes: "Luis Enrique is going full Marcelo Bielsa as he watches the opening exchanges sitting on a cool box in what is surely the biggest technical area known to man." It looks half the size of the pitch...

Cool box - JIM WHITE
Cool box - JIM WHITE

07:21 PM

16 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Great save from Olsen!

The first clearcut chance of the match sees Koke on the right deliver a fine cross that is met by the head of Olmo, He does everything right, heading it down into the corner, but the Sweden keeper does well to keep the scores level.

07:19 PM

Starting them young

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07:17 PM

13 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Good defending from Danielson on Morata gives the hosts a throw. From the set piece Spain go all the way back to Simon in goal - a full 80 or so yards...

07:16 PM

11 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

It's pretty relentless at the moment - Sweden will get very tired, very quickly playing without the ball like this. They surely need to step up a yard or two and not sit back and invite Spain into their final third.

07:15 PM

10 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

It's still all Spain - they win a free-kick in the final third on the left. It's played into toward Rodri but Sweden head clear.

07:14 PM

8 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Morata is making some good runs in behind the Sweden defence - he's always been able to move backlines about but it's his finishing that lets him down. Can he add lethal finishing to his repertoire?

07:10 PM

5 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

The hosts still seeing a lot of the ball - Sweden are encamped in their half, happy to let Spain have all the possession. That tactic might be tiring in the heat.

Alba then gets forward on the left, he gets to the byline and puts in a great cross which Sweden clear for a corner. Spain need bodies in the box for moments like that. From the set piece the ball comes to Olmo on the edge of the box and his shot goes over.

07:08 PM

3 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Torres puts in a fine cross into the six-yard box from the right - it was meant for Olmo but he cannot get on the end of it. Spain win the first corner of the match however. Can they make it count? No, is the answer as Sweden clear their lines.

07:05 PM

2 mins: Spain 0-0 Sweden

Laporte is on the right of the two centre-backs for Spain - he usually starts on the left for City. Spain see most of the early ball but the most breaks down in the final third.

07:04 PM

1 min: Spain 0-0 Sweden

We're under way in Seville.

Spain are in their traditional red and Sweden in their traditional yellow - a fine colour combo and always great to see a match where not one away kit is used (at least I think so...)...

06:59 PM

The national anthems have been sung

Here are my marks out of 10.

Sweden: Sung half heartedly by the players - but a nice enough melody - 6

Spain: There are no lyrics for this national tune but the home crowd hum along loudly, great effort - 7

06:57 PM

The teams are walking out onto the pitch

And we're about to get this intriguing match under way.

Let's see how this Spain side play - they certainly don't have the mega-stars of 10 or so years ago but they still create a lot and if someone can find their scoring boots you'd make them favourites against a Sweden side that always seems to fail to beat the Big Teams...

Let's find out.

06:48 PM

Those teams again

06:45 PM

Making some shapes

Spain warm up 
Spain warm up
Sweden warm up 
Sweden warm up

The two sides warm up in Seville.

06:42 PM

The other teams in Group E have got their campaigns under way

And it was the first 'shock' of the tournament so far (shock as in 4 on the Richter scale, not a full-blown 8...) as Slovakia beat 10-man Poland 2-1.

Here's what happened - Milan Skriniar fires Slovakia to victory against Poland after Grzegorz Krychowiak red card

06:39 PM

Cesc Fabregas is on BBC

And is hopeful this Spain side can go far over the next month. He says the atmosphere surrounding this side before this tournament is similar to before 2008 when then went on to lift the trophy...

While we're talking about the midfield maestro here's his first column for Telegraph Sport - it's well worth a read.

A humble, funny great - with a little dark side: The real 'N'Golinho' Kante - Plus, our Euro 2020 columnist explains why Timo Werner will come good

06:35 PM

Spain may be lacking Busquets, but...

...they still have a strong spine - something any hopeful winner of the tournament needs.

READ: Every team needs a strong spine – and England's looks broken compared to their Euros rivals

06:32 PM

Sweden have had their own Covid chaos

Sweden have had their own Covid calamity with Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg both testing positive - they will not feature tonight. Up front Alexander Isak is partnered by Marcus Berg - Isak is a definitely one to watch, even if you’re not a Spanish defender. The Premier League flavour is added by Man Utd’s Victor Lindelof and dead-ball specialist Seb Larsson, formerly of Arsenal and Sunderland as well as Hull and Birmingham.

06:25 PM

The Spain XI has a certain Man City flavour

So Spain line up with Dano Olmo in attack rather than Gerard Moreno - he of 30 goals for Valencia fame. Big call for Enrique. Elsewhere there’s a certain Man City feel to the XI with Aymeric Laporte, Rodri and Ferran Torres all starting. There’s no place, however, for Liverpool’s Thiago or Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta - both start on the bench.

06:16 PM

The teams in black and white

SPAIN XI TO FACE SWEDEN:Simón, Llorente, Marcos Laporte, Torres, Alba, Koke, Rodri, González, Torres, Morata, Olmo, Subs: de Gea, Azpilicueta, Diego Llorente, Moreno, Thiago Alcántara, García, Sánchez, Gayà., Ruiz, Traoré, Oyarzabal, Sarabia

SWEDEN XI TO FACE SPAIN: Olsen, Lustig, Danielson, Lindelof, Augustinsson, Sebastian Larsson, Ekdal, Olsson, Forsberg, Berg, Isak. Subs: Granqvist, Bengtsson, Johnsson, Svensson, Helander, Sema, Krafth, Claesson, Jansson, Quaison, Nordfeldt, Jordan Larsson, Cajuste

06:11 PM

If you're Luis Enrique then...

...you're doubtless relieved this match is about to start because the run up to the tournament for him and his side has been somewhat turbulent.

There was the Covid calamity- Sergio Busquets' positive followed by Diego Llorente's false positive. That all followed his decision to pick a 24-man squad (rather than the 26 allowed) and to not only decide against picking Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos, but also against picking any Real player. The media in Spain (based overwhemling in in the capital) hasn't been happy and you get the feeling the Spain coach will be overjoyed to actually focus on the action on the pitch now, rather than the soap opera off it...

 Luis Enrique
Luis Enrique

05:46 PM

Here's the Spain XI

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05:03 PM

Lack of leadership - 'NO' says Luis Enrique

It’s never a great sign to go into an opening match of a tournament with all the talk dominated by those not playing, rather than the XI who are. But that’s what Spain have had to cope with as they get ready to take on Sweden in their Group E opener.

The other line surrounding the European heavyweights revolves around the ‘their Golden Generation is now long gone’ talk (expect to hear that line bandied about a lot over the coming weeks…), but one of their squad who was part of the sides that won two Euros and the 2010 World Cup is Sergio Busquets. He is the first player who won’t be playing this evening. The captain - who is definitely their most experienced player, but also arguably their best - has been ruled out due to testing positive for Covid. Spain will miss both that knowhow and guile as they bid to get off to a winning start in Seville.

The other player who won’t play a part in tonight’s clash is Sergio Ramos. The Real Madrid enforcer was left out of the squad - a move that shocked more than a few people beyond Spain’s borders. His and Busquets’ absences has lead to questions regarding a possible lack of on-pitch leadership.

 Spain's midfielder Sergio Busquets (R) and Portugal's striker Joao Felix (L) during the international friendly soccer match between Spain and Portugal at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain - SHUTTERSTOCK
Spain's midfielder Sergio Busquets (R) and Portugal's striker Joao Felix (L) during the international friendly soccer match between Spain and Portugal at Wanda Metropolitano stadium in Madrid, Spain - SHUTTERSTOCK

Keen to go into the Sweden match only talking positives Luis Enrique said Spain’s XI, whoever he picks, will be full of leaders.

“This team doesn't need leadership, there’s 23 players who can provide that,” the Spain coach said on Sunday.

“I’m also one of the leaders, for better or worse. Every coach should be a leader but in this team, everyone should lead from the pitch. They have to get that from themselves. But our strength is our group and we're well prepared.”

Going into the tournament on the back of a Covid outbreak - one that also means Diego Llorente might not be available for tonight’s match - is less than ideal (to state the obvious). Enrique, however, said his plans have not changed as a result.

“Recent events haven't altered my plan,” he said. “I’ve had a very clear plan for a long time, although coaches always have to adapt to circumstances. We may not be able to count upon our captain but I have a very squad and I'm delighted with it.”

Of Sweden the Spain boss added: “Sweden is a team that plays in a very direct way and has very strong players, with pace and quality. They will play lots of long balls and it won't be easy but we'll try and play an intense game.”

Stay here for all the team news, pre-match action and the match itself.

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