Spain vs Sweden: Uncertainty clouds La Roja's quest for fourth European crown
Spain will look to put their fraught preparations behind them when they begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Sweden on Monday.
The past week has been one of real uncertainty for La Roja following Sergio Busquets' positive test for coronavirus.
The senior squad were forced to isolate, with back-up options summoned from holidays to take part in a parallel training bubble in case of further infections, while the Under-21s took to the field for last Monday's final warm-up friendly against Lithuania.
Diego Llorente returned what was later confirmed to be a false positive test and, thankfully for coach Luis Enrique, there were no further cases.
Llorente, who was applauded by team-mates after returning to training, said: "The reception was one of the most special things that has happened to me.
"It's a sign of the unity the whole team has. The team is very united, and that reception was something I didn't expect."
Fostering unity in the side has been of paramount importance to Luis Enrique, especially amid the consternation back in the capital over his decision not to include Sergio Ramos, or indeed any Real Madrid players, in his squad.
The former Barcelona boss has a mixture of experience and uncertainty at this level as he bids to lead Spain to a record fourth European Championship triumph and third in the past five tournaments.
They begin Group E in Seville against Sweden, who have lost the previous two meetings at major championships and kept only one clean sheet in their previous 12 games against Spain.
Janne Anderson's side have lost six of their past eight games at the Euros, their only win in that run coming against France back in 2012. They scored just once at Euro 2016, too – and that was an own goal from Republic of Ireland defender Ciaran Clark.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Spain – Thiago Alcantara
With Busquets missing at least against Sweden, it may well fall on Liverpool midfielder Thiago Alcantara to operate as dictator-in-chief in the Spain midfield.
He completed 51 of 56 passes in the friendly draw with Portugal on June 4, exactly the same number as Busquets, so the shift in role should not prove too disruptive.
Sweden – Alexander Isak
The loss of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to injury before the tournament means the Sweden goalscoring burden is firmly on the shoulders of Alexander Isak.
The Real Sociedad striker scored 17 times in LaLiga last season but only has two senior international goals since 2019.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This is the fourth meeting between Spain and Sweden at a major tournament (World Cup and European Championship), after World Cup 1950 (3-1 to Sweden), World Cup 1978 (1-0 to Spain) and Euro 2008 (2-1 to Spain).
- Spain have reached the knockout stages of the European Championship in five of their past six participations, the only exception coming in 2004 when they were eliminated in the group phase.
- La Roja have lost only two of their previous 16 games at the European Championship (W11 D3) with those two defeats coming in their last two matches (against Croatia and Italy, June 2016).
- Spain's last 37 goals in the European Championship finals have all been scored from inside the box. Their last attempt to be scored from distance was Raul's strike against Slovenia in the group stages of the 2000 edition.
- Sweden are taking part in their seventh European Championship. In fact, since their first participation as Euro hosts in 1992 – which remains their best performance (semi-finalists) – they have qualified for every tournament except 1996.