With the UEFA Euro 2020 set to kick off soon, we bring you the lowdown of Group E, which comprises Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden.
After a year-long wait, the UEFA Euro 2020 is finally upon us. Europe’s quadrennial footballing extravaganza was supposed to go down in 2020 but the coronavirus pandemic meant that the tournament had to be postponed by a year.
The competition will be hosted at 11 venues across 11 countries, with things kicking off on June 11 as 24 teams compete to be crowned the Champions of Europe. With the group stages just over a week away, The Hard Tackle will take you through an extensive analysis of each group and what can be expected from the teams in it.
Having taken a thorough look at Groups A, B, C and D, the focus now shifts towards Group E where faltering giants Spain have been drawn with Robert Lewandowski-led Poland, Sweden and Slovakia.
Group E – Poland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden
June 14: Poland vs Slovakia; Spain vs Sweden
June 18: Sweden vs Slovakia
June 19: Spain vs Poland
June 23: Sweden vs Poland; Slovakia vs Spain
Led by the best striker in the world in Robert Lewandowski, Poland might not be a team that many might fancy but will pose a major threat. The presence of the Bayern Munich superstar alone is enough to cause some concern within the opposition camp but the White and Reds, managed by Paulo Sousa, have a support squad that can create problems for opponents.
Surprise quarter-finalists in the previous Euros in 2016 where they were eliminated by eventual winners Portugal, that too on penalties, Poland did not have the best of the World Cup campaigns as they exited at the group stages. They did cruise through the Euro qualifiers, losing just one of their ten games (W8 D1), to finish atop Group G to achieve a fourth consecutive qualification for the tournament.
Their form, since, however, has been a bit up and down as Poland have had a couple of difficult campaigns in the UEFA Nations League while their FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifying campaign hasn’t been off to a flying start either, having managed just one win in three (D1 L1). In fact, the White and Reds have picked up just one victory in their last six games, which will be a concern heading into the tournament.
With manager Paulo Sousa taking over the reins only in January earlier this year, adjustment might be an issue for Poland. The squad certainly possesses a good blend of youth and experience though, with seasoned hands like Lewandowski himself, along with Lukasz Fabianski, Wojciech Szczesny present to guide promising youngsters like Jakub Moder, Kamil Jozwiak among others.
Key Player: Robert Lewandowski
While there may be other players like Karol Linetty, Piotr Zielinski and Mateusz Klich that will have important roles to play, ultimately though, Poland’s hopes will be riding on their inspirational captain, Robert Lewandowski. Coming on the back of an exceptional, record-breaking season with Bayern Munich, the 32-year-old will need to replicate that form on the international stages if Poland are to repeat their historic run from 2016.
From a team that has qualified four times in a row to the European Champions to one that is making just its second appearance in the competition, Slovakia surprised all in 2016 when they made it to the Round of 16 after gritty displays against Russia and England in the group stages, only to fall to Germany.
Having not qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Slovakia had to make it to Euros the hard way as well, as they finished third in their group and had to make their way through the playoffs based on their UEFA Nations League 2018/19 position. The Sokoli had to see off the challenge from the Republic of Ireland (shootouts), and Northern Ireland (extra-time win) to book a place in the final tournament.
Three wins in twelve games since September 2020 is hardly the kind of form that manager Stefan Tarkovic would be relishing. But Slovakia haven’t lost any of their last four games and managed to beat Russia in March in a World Cup qualifier, showing that they will not be a team that goes down without a fight on the big stage.
Squad-wise, Slovakia appear a bit midfield-heavy, with some quality players like captain Marek Hamsik, Stanislav Lobotka, Juraj Kucka and Ondrej Duda in the ranks while Milan Skriniar and Martin Dubravka will be key at the back. The main issue, though, for Tarkovic is the lack of a prolific goalscorer upfront, which could be their undoing.
Key Players: Marek Hamsik, Milan Skriniar
Hamsik may have somewhat slipped off the radar since he left Napoli, but the 33-year-old remains a pivotal figure for Slovakia. The nation’s all-time highest appearance-maker and leading goalscorer, the midfielder will have a key role to essay with his attacking drive from the centre. Milan Skriniar, fresh after helping Inter Milan to the Serie A crown, will be pivotal in holding the defence together.
Back-to-back Euro winners in 2008 and 2012 with a World Cup triumph sandwiched in between, Spain haven’t been able to sustain their success on the biggest stages. A group stage exit in the 2014 World Cup was followed by Round of 16 eliminations in the previous Euro and the 2018 World Cup, as the giants of Europe continued to falter despite boasting some of the best players in the world.
There has been some progress made of late though, under Luis Enrique and briefly, Robert Moreno. Indeed La Roja steamrolled through their qualifiers, going unbeaten in the group with eight wins in ten to book a place in the Euros while they have also made it to the Nations League finals as well. Nevertheless, consistency is something that has evaded Spain of late, something that will need to be addressed at the earliest.
Indeed, four wins in their last 12 games is not good enough a record for a team boasting of the quality that this Spanish side does. On their day they can blow away the best of teams, as was seen in their 6-0 thrashing of Germany but at times can be equally frustrating as well, the recent draws to Greece and Portugal bearing evidence to it. They will need to hit top gear from the word-go and maintain that level throughout if they are to fulfil their potential this summer.
Speaking of the roster, Enrique’s selection sparked a lot of controversies as he did not name a single Real Madrid player for the Euros, even dropping the legendary Sergio Ramos, which has left the defence without an experienced leader, while the misfiring form of Alvaro Morata will be a concern at the other end of the pitch. So, the pressure will be on the manager to get things right after the brave call he has made.
Key Players: Sergio Busquets, Gerard Moreno
Aymeric Laporte, who only recently made his debut for the national team, will have a lot riding on him as will Cesar Azpilicueta, who will be the most experienced defender at Spain’s disposal. But Sergio Busquets will hold the key as he is the only remaining player from the all-conquering Spanish team who knows what it takes to win tournaments like this.
Gerard Moreno is coming on the back of his personal best season for Villarreal, which has led to interest from bigwigs like Barcelona and Manchester United. Having led his club to the Europa League on the back of his goals, he will be aiming to repeat those exploits on the international stage as well.
An ever-present in the European Championships since 2000, Sweden have gone past the group stages just once in the last five editions of the tournament and never in the last three, which is something that coach Janne Andersson will be hoping to change this time out. And their quarter-final run in the last World Cup showed that the Blue and Yellow are more than capable of springing a surprise or two.
Interestingly, Spain and Sweden were drawn in the same Euro qualifying group, with the latter finishing runners-up, four points off of the leaders, losing just once in ten games. Andersson & co. are coming on the back of a disappointing UEFA Nations League campaign that saw them getting relegated to League B.
Things, however, have picked up this year for the Blue and Yellows though, with four wins in four games in 2021, including two in the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which does set them up in good stead heading into the European Championship finals.
Speaking of the Sweden squad, a lot of the talks was surrounded by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to the national team fold for a major tournament, but an injury towards the end of the season put paid to any such hopes. So, the onus will largely be on the experienced Emil Forsberg, Andreas Granqvist, Seb Larsson and Victor Lindelof to guide the team through, with the dash of youth coming from Alexander Isak, Jordan Larsson and Dejan Kulusevski.
Key Players: Alexander Isak, Dejan Kulusevski
In Alexander Isak, Sweden have a potent goalscorer whose confidence will be high after a solid season with Real Sociedad. Dejan Kulusevski, on the other hand, might not have had the best of the debut seasons with Juventus but did end the campaign strongly and remains a player with unbridled potential, with his pace, trickery and movement likely to cause troubles to the best of the defences, if he is used rightly.
Likely to Qualify: Spain, Poland
Spain’s fortunes in big tournaments have dwindled in the past decade but there has been significant progress made under Luis Enrique. And even though they are without a number of their regular, experienced players, there is enough quality and depth in the ranks to see them through to the Round of 16.
As for the second spot, it could be a close one as each of Poland, Sweden and Slovakia have some admirable qualities. However, Poland, at the moment, seem better positioned to go through, with Slovakia lacking a goalscorer and Sweden not possessing a genuine game-changer in the ranks.