Spain’s frustrations all too familiar as Sweden hold steady for a point

Seville crowd brings the noise but scoreless draw sends them home disappointed

 Viktor Claesson  of Sweden is challenged by Thiago Alcantara and Pau Torres uring the Euro 2020 Group E match at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville. Photograph: Julio Munoz/EPA

Viktor Claesson of Sweden is challenged by Thiago Alcantara and Pau Torres uring the Euro 2020 Group E match at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville. Photograph: Julio Munoz/EPA

 

Spain 0 Sweden 0

You may have heard this one before. It was noisy in Seville, but the roof was never truly raised at La Cartuja, the sound that lingered from Spain’s opening game at the Euro 2020 the whistles of supporters who had watched their team dominate possession, rack up over 800 passes but just not find a way through. Before them was a tight, defensive organised Swedish team which helped to explain it, but there was familiarity in the frustration too.

Only six members of this Spain squad played in Russia, a new generation and an unpredictable XI but some of the issues remain. A game where they impressed for 45 minutes and then drifted in the second half, saw Spain make chances but not take them.

So much so that Álvaro Morata departed listening to supporters’ laments, but nor did Spain find clarity without him, ultimately forced to accept an opening 0-0 draw which might even have been worse when they were twice cut open by the superb Alexander Isak, who first hit the post and then provided for Marcus Berg to somehow pass up a glorious opportunity from close range that would have made this even bigger shock.

For all the doubts about personnel, Luis Enrique kept talking about a clarity of ideas. “Our plan is to have the ball to create chances, control the play and the opponent’s transitions, press in the opposition half, and get the ball back as close to their goal as possible,” he had said and that was pretty close to what he got. Kick-off was delayed by two minutes because there was a problem with the goal – a familiar issue, perhaps – but once it did start the pattern was immediately apparent.

From Spain’s first possession, it took over a minute for Sweden to get a touch. Within 10 minutes, Luis Enrique’s side had played 100 passes; within 20 it was 200, and they weren’t slowing down. Almost quarter of an hour had passed before Unai Simón even touched it; everyone else in the Spain team had done so plenty of times already.

Koke in particular took charge just to the right of central midfield. Tidy in possession, athletic too, what most stood out was the role he played tactically, somehow able to be everybody’s auxiliary. Marcos Llorente in particular benefited, Koke facilitating his runs from full back – runs that saw him head inside, not out. Assisted by Ferran Torres, together they overloaded the right side.

Sweden midfielder Robin Quaison is surrounded by Spain’s Jordi Alba, Pau Torres and Thiago Alcantara during the Euro 2020 Group E match at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville. Photograph: Julio Munoz/AFP via Getty Images
Sweden midfielder Robin Quaison is surrounded by Spain’s Jordi Alba, Pau Torres and Thiago Alcantara during the Euro 2020 Group E match at La Cartuja Stadium in Seville. Photograph: Julio Munoz/AFP via Getty Images

Which wasn’t to say there was nothing on the left, where Jordi Alba was running chest out and head back as ever and Dani Olmo drifted inside, dangerous around the box, his passing clever and his willingness to shoot just as significant, as was shown just before the break with an effort that almost caught out Robin Olsen.

At that point, Spain had 83 per cent of the ball, almost halfway to a thousand passes. And yet while they dominated, that hasn’t always been seen as a good thing with this side – remember Russia – and what they didn’t have yet was a goal. Just before the break, they also had a scare, Isak escaping Aymeric Laporte, getting into the Spain area, pausing just enough to see the shot, and then watching his effort get cleared off the line by Llorente, the ball bouncing back off his leg and the post.

That would have been some blow for a team that should have led. Olsen had made a superb save from Olmo’s header diving low to palm away after Koke’s cross. Then Koke found a loose ball and sliced just wide from the edge of the six-yard box. An even better chance followed when he dashed through to reach Olmo’s ball across goal only to sidefoot over from beyond the penalty spot.

It still wasn’t happening, even when a mistake from Marcus Danielson gave Morata the kind of chance that he both dreams of and has nightmares about. Alone in front of the goalkeeper, seemingly unconvinced, he bent past the post. There were whistles here, Koke appealing with fans to support the striker. It would have been a bigger ask had they conceded when Isak escaped.

For Spain, having gone into the dressingroom still at 0-0, despite having set a tournament record for the number of passes in an opening half, the task felt as much mental as physical. To insist, to continue, to not lose patience and certainly not concentration, which momentarily they did at the start of the second period, thus offering another reminder of the risk.

They also had to take their chances, although perhaps that realisation made it more likely that that they would not. Certainly, Morata struck the ball timidly wide when it fell to him, another snatched shot drawing frustrated whistles.

Changes were coming closer too, something to shift the shape of this. There had been moments early on when Sweden had seemed uncertain but as 20 minutes slipped by with little sign of a Spanish threat, this game was now probably more or less where they imagined it and where they hoped to keep it, in no hurry to step out.

Until, suddenly, they did. Isak led a counterattack that from deep, spreading the ball left and running right for the return. Well inside Spain’s area, fabulous footwork took him past three men and he played across for Berg who, with the ball seeming to sit up awkwardly, somehow missed from three yards.

Soon after, Rodri was withdrawn for Thiago Alcãntara.. More significantly, Morata was withdrawn for Pablo Sarabia, loud whistles ringing around. If that was to be expected, the departure of Isak soon afterwards was not, Spain’s defenders probably tempted to look towards the Sweden coach Janne Andersson and whisper ‘gracias’.

Their issues now were only at one end, where Marcos Llorente did superbly to reach the ball by the byline and cut it back for Sarabia, whose shot was blocked before Mikel Oyarzabal and Gerard Moreno were sent on. A huge roar greeted the announcement of the Villarreal striker, responsibility and hope now on his shoulders. The noise rose, chants for Spain to go for them, which they did, Olsen soon pushing away from Moreno’s head as he tried to reach a Sarabia cross. But that yellow wall wasn’t going anywhere. – Guardian

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