Spain’s new team struggled with the familiar problems on Monday as a string of missed chances allowed Sweden to hang on for a goalless draw in their Euro 2020 opener in Seville. Alvaro Morata wasted the best opportunity of a dominant first half, in which Spain churned out 419 passes, the most of any team on record in the opening 45 minutes of a European Championship fixture. Morata was whistled by his own fans when substituted with 25 minutes left, with Luis Enrique now facing questions over his decision to leave out Gerard Moreno, the Villarreal striker who scored 23 goals last season.
Spain lost their rhythm after the interval and Sweden might even have won it, the excellent Alexander Isak hitting the post before his strike partner Marcus Berg missed a sitter from two yards out.
“They decided to defend, defend and defend. It was a very unfair result,” said Luis Enrique, who also complained about the pitch. “The players struggled to control the ball,” he said.
A goalless draw leaves Spain playing catch-up in Group E after Slovakia earlier pulled off a shock 2-1 victory over Poland, raising the stakes for the game between Spain and Poland on Saturday, when a loser would be left struggling to qualify.
Another failure to convert possession into chances was reminiscent of recent disappointments for Spain, most notably when they were frustrated by Russia at the 2018 World Cup, before going out on penalties.
In the wake of that defeat, Luis Enrique was tasked with launching a new era as coach, a project that involved promoting a fresh crop of players but also a more direct, penetrative style.
His team were impressive in the first half, a far cry from some of the ponderous passing displays that made Spain look out of date in recent major tournaments.
But the second half drifted, perhaps through a lack of confidence or even sharpness, given the team were unable to train together for most of last week, separated according to protocol after Sergio Busquets, still absent, and Diego Llorente tested positive for Covid-19.
Sweden coach Janne Andersson, meanwhile, promised on Sunday his team would “run like hell” and they not only defended resolutely but carved out arguably the two best chances of the match.
Ibrahimovic’s heir apparent Isak impresses
Isak, the 21-year-old, who scored 17 goals for Real Sociedad last season, showed why he is one of the most rated young strikers in Europe and Spain would have been relieved when Andersson took him off with 20 minutes left.
“It wasn’t raining chances even though they had a lot of possession,” said Andersson. “We could have lost the game, we could also have won it.”
The Spanish host city was switched to Seville after Bilbao was unable to guarantee UEFA’s desired number of fans and with 12,517 supporters inside La Cartuja, the atmosphere was as warm as the weather, with the temperature over 30 degrees Celsius.
Kick-off was briefly delayed while one of the nets was fixed and on the sideline Luis Enrique sat perched on the edge of an ice-box.
His team swarmed all over Sweden in the opening 10 minutes, racking up 100 passes to their opponents’ 13.
Twenty minutes was up before Sweden found a foothold in Spain’s half, a throw-in up the pitch prompting Andersson to leap off the bench and applaud.
But Spain kept passing and the chances kept coming, Koke steering wide after another tired Sweden touch in the area and then ballooning over after he met Jordi Alba’s ball in.
The best opportunity though fell to Morata, the ball finding him in the box after Marcus Danielsson failed to clear Alba’s clip, but with the goal gaping he curled his finish wide.
Already, Spain seemed to feel the weight of their misses and Sweden almost landed a sucker-punch, Isak’s finish diverted by Marcos Llorente onto his own post.
The game drifted after the break and Spain faded, their earlier urgency fizzling into something much less convincing. Sweden should have taken the lead as Isak twisted and turned in the box, making enough space to drag a ball to the back post where somehow Berg failed to score.
Both teams made changes for the last 20 minutes, among them Isak going off for Sweden and Morata departing for Spain, replaced by Moreno.
Spain surged in the final minutes and Moreno almost grabbed a winner, his flicked header flying towards goal but kept out by the right foot of Robin Olsen, who intervened again in injury time to deny Pablo Sarabia.
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