Spain failed to make their dominance pay as they were held to a goalless draw by Sweden in Seville. Luis Enrique’s side racked up over 800 passes in their group E opener but couldn’t convert their possession into goals as the tournament saw its first stalemate.
This is a new generation for Spain but some of the issues remain. In the first half they impressed with high intensity but then drifted in the second half, the only constant was their inability to convert the chances which they created.
Alvaro Morata was the guilty party on more than one occasion, and that told when he was substituted to jeers late in the second half, but Koke and Dani Olmo also missed good opportunities to break the deadlock when Spain were in the ascendancy early on.
Though it could have been worse when Spain were twice cut open by Sweden’s superb Alexander Isak. Yet it was Sweden’s defensive resolve that somehow kept Spain relatively at bay in the second period and edged them towards a precious group-stage point.
Story of the game
Spain, who had Pedri starting in midfield to make him the youngest Spaniard to feature in a European Championship, were in domination mode from the off. From their first possession, it took over a minute for Sweden to get a touch of the ball. Within ten minutes, Enrique’s team had played over 100 passes, within 20 it was 200. Pass and move continues to be the Spain groove.
Morata should have turned that potency into an early lead but when the Juventus striker, who was starting ahead of in-form Gerard Moreno, was presented with a chance handed to him by Marcus Danielson’s fluffed clearance, he snatched at the shot and fired it wide. Still, Spain were advancing nicely with both full backs, Jordi Alba and Marcos Llorente making progress down either flank.
Likewise Olmo, who was positioned on the left of the front three but drifted inside and got on the end of a cross to test Robin Olsen, the Sweden goalkeeper, with a downward header. Koke also went close with two opportunities but missed the target on both occasions, slicing wide and side-footing over.
Sweden were set with two banks of four and two deep strikers, and tried to limit the space, but in such humid conditions in southern Spain, it was hard for them to keep chasing shadows without getting a breather. That told whenever they did regain possession, they simply couldn’t string two passes together. By this stage, their opponents had over 83 per cent of the ball.
Still, just before the break, a chance almost caught Spain out. Isak escaped Aymeric Laporte into the area and tried a shot which was heading wide but struck Llorente’s left leg and came back off the post. Unai Simon claimed the ball and Spain breathed a sigh of relief.
This was quickly becoming a mental task just as it was physical, for both sides. Morata hooked wide another good opening to let Sweden off once more but when Marcus Berg squandered arguably the best chance of the game, the risks of 0-0 were laid bare. Isak had done the hard work once again but Berg couldn’t convert, instead skying the ball high over the crossbar from mere yards out.
Enrique’s men were not as forceful in the second half and he tried to change that by sending on Thiago Alcantara and Pablo Sarabia followed by Mikel Oyarzabal. Swedish players, on the other hand, were starting to tire with cramp becoming a common feature. Llorente, who famously never tires, tried to test their legs by reaching the ball on the by-line before cutting it back for Sarabia only for his shot to be blocked.
Moreno, who has been a prolific goalscorer for Villarreal this term, was sent on as Spain’s search for a breakthrough continued and he almost managed it with a headed effort which Olsen pushed away. The end was in sight for Sweden who navigated six minutes of stoppage time to ensure this game, somehow, goalless.
Spain: Simon; M Llorente, Laporte, Pau Torres, Alba; Koke (Ruiz 87), Rodri (Thiago 66), Pedri; Ferran Torres (Oyarzabal 74), Morata (Sarabia 66), Olmo (Moreno 74).
Subs (not used): De Gea, Sanchez, Garcia, Gaya, D Llorente, Azpilicueta, Traore.
Sweden: Olsen; Lustig (Krafth 75), Danielson, Lindelof, Augustinsson; S Larsson, Ekdal, Olsson (Cajuste 84), Forsberg (Bengtsson 84), Isak (Claesson 69), Berg (Quaison 69).
Subs (not used): Johnsson, Nordfeldt, Helander, Jansson, Svensson, Sema, J Larsson.
Referee: Slavko Vincic (Slovenia).