Slovakia vs Spain preview: Now or never for misfiring Spaniards

Luke Bissett
LiveScore
Alvaro Morata and Jordi Alba celebrate the former's goal against Poland
Alvaro Morata and Jordi Alba celebrate the former's goal against Poland

Group E: Slovakia vs Spain, kick-off 5pm (UK time, ITV)

It has been a European Championship to forget so far for Spain, with plenty of touches of the ball but not much to show for it. 

But despite drawing both of their opening games, they could still go through as Group E winners. 

They also know that defeat would see them crash out of the competition at the group stages.

And Slovakia head to Seville looking to cause yet another final group stage game upset, akin to their famous World Cup victory in 2010 when they beat Italy 3-2 to progress and send the defending champions Italy home.

A point would guarantee Stefan Tarkovic’s side make it into the knockouts by finishing in the top two of the group.

Story so far

When the groups were drawn, it appeared to be all but a formality that Spain would easily reach the knockout rounds.

Yet Luis Enrique’s men were unable to break down a resilient Sweden in their opening group game, drawing 0-0, and again struggled in their 1-1 tie with Poland.

They had chances in both though. Alvaro Morata was unable to find his shooting boots in the opener with Sweden whilst Gerard Moreno missed a penalty against Poland immediately after the Poles equalised. 

Slovakia, meanwhile, made the ideal start to the tournament.

Poland were no match for their high-tempo football as they came out 2-1 victors in Saint Petersburg.

Their second game with Sweden was evenly matched and the Falcons were edged out 1-0 by a late Emil Forsberg penalty.

More Gerard please

Spain have toiled up front despite creating plenty of chances at Euro 2020
Spain have toiled up front despite creating plenty of chances at Euro 2020

There was bemusement among Spain fans at the fact that Gerard Moreno did not start their tournament opener with Sweden.

The Villarreal forward enjoyed a terrific season, finishing as the second-highest scorer in LaLiga behind a certain Lionel Messi on 23 goals.

And Moreno showed exactly why there had been calls for him to start in the opener, putting in an impressive display against Poland.

The forward assisted Morata’s goal and had more shots (4) than anyone else on the pitch, attempting (12) and completing (6) more ground duels than any other player.

While he did strike the woodwork with his penalty, he will be key to unlocking a hard-nosed Slovakian defence.

Playing for keeps

Newcastle stopper Martin Dubravka has been one of the busier keepers at Euro 2020
Newcastle stopper Martin Dubravka has been one of the busier keepers at Euro 2020

Fans of the Premier League have become accustomed to seeing Martin Dubravka bailing out the Newcastle defence, so it was a familiar sight when Slovakia took on Sweden last Friday.

On the BBC commentary, Danny Murphy dubbed Dubravka’s save from Ludwig Augustinsson's header as “one of the best saves so far in the tournament”.

And with Spain needing at least a point to progress, Dubravka can be sure he'll have his work cut out against an onslaught of Spanish attacks that will besiege his goal.

He is eighth among all keepers at Euro 2020 for shots faced on 33 – expect that number to rise.

Thiago time

It has been a rather tumultuous 12 months for Thiago Alcantara.

Expectations were high last summer when he joined Premier League champions Liverpool from Bayern Munich for what seemed a bargain £20million.

Thiago Alcantara has yet to start a match for Spain at the tournament
Thiago Alcantara has yet to start a match for Spain at the tournament

However, the midfielder failed to make the expected impact on Merseyside.

Undoubtedly still one of the world’s best midfielders, it is strange that he has started neither of Spain’s two group games.

Both Poland and Sweden set out with a deep block, which Spain struggled to break down through a lack of creativity.

Slovakia are sure to do the same and Enrique may look to Thiago to add that little bit of spark that his side have longed for.

No love lost

Spain haven’t won many admirers so far and it’s safe to say the Dutch aren’t big fans of La Roja – at least not going by comments from former Netherlands player Rafael van der Vaart.

He said: “Spain is horrible. I hope we [the Netherlands] will play against them. All they do is switch from one side to the other.”

Tongue firmly in cheek, Spanish midfielder Koke responded: “We can see him perfectly in a photo of Iniesta’s goal in the World Cup final.”

But there is a kernel of truth to Van der Vaart’s comments. Spain were devastating when they won back-to-back European Championships in 2008 and 2012.

But with a talisman in Morata who relies so heavily on confidence, it’s hard to know where the cutting edge lies within Enrique’s team.

Tags

SpainSlovakiaEuropean Championship
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