Euro 2020: Spain's opener was marred by baffling team selection and missed opportunities

Head coach Luis Enrique’s decision to start Alvaro Morata over in-form Gerard Moreno proved costly as La Roja frustrated in a goalless draw against Sweden.

Spain head coach Luis Enrique in a file photo; Credit: Twitter@EURO2020
By Karthik Raman | Jun 15, 2021 | 4 Min Read follow icon Follow Us

When the Euro 2020 draw was made, there were few surprises along the way, but Spain was considered to be one of the fortunate ones to have received a favourable draw. La Roja was assigned to Group E, which included Slovakia, Sweden, and Poland. The Spaniards were considered the favourites to qualify from that group and advance to the knockout stages as group leaders. When Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s participation in the tournament was confirmed, their first game against Sweden was expected to be a difficult one. However, Ibrahimovic was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to an injury.

With their talismanic centre-forward missing, not much was expected from the Swedish side. Spain were heavy favourites in the Monday night clash. Spain were heavy favourites in the match on Monday night. However, things did not go as planned, as the Spanish team was held to a disappointing goalless draw in their opening match. It was, without a doubt, one of the most one-sided games in recent memory. Not because one team outperformed the other, but because they approached the game in entirely different ways.

Territorial advantage

Luis Enrique’s side had the vast majority of possession (85 percent) but was unable to capitalise on the good chances created in their build-up play. The amount of possession Spain had on Monday night was frightening, but to the credit of Sweden, they maintained a good shape and made life extremely difficult for their much-fancied opponents. La Roja had to be patient to find gaps in their tight backline, and when they did, their attacking players fluffed their lines.

After the match, Enrique said, “We are going to analyse this game in detail as we always do. But in this case I think it’s really clear, we’ve all seen what happened this evening so there’s really not too much to go into. We were by far the better team.”

“The opposition tried to hang back, we completely controlled the game and tried to create as many chances as possible. We had sufficient chances to win the game. What went wrong? It’s the fact we didn’t take those chances. It’s very clear and we all saw it.”

Question marks over team selection

The manager is right about one thing – the draw was down to Spain’s missed opportunities. Following Alvaro Morata’s two costly misses, the Juventus striker will bear the brunt of the blame. The main chance came when Marcus Danielson’s attempted clearance allowed Morata in on goal, but the 28-year-old centre-forward side-footed his shot wide.

It begs the question as to why Enrique decided to start Alvaro Morata over in-form Gerard Moreno. The 29-year-old forward enjoyed one of the best domestic seasons of his career, scoring 30 goals in all competitions for Villarreal. He played a starring role in helping the Spanish side end their blistering season with a Europa League triumph against Manchester United in the final.

The coach, however, defended his decision to start the Juventus forward on Monday night. “I think Alvaro had a great game,” said Enrique. “Of course we all want to take our chances, but other players had chances too. I think he’s used to it, but of course we want to see that support from the fans. That’s football though, it would have been nice to dedicate a win to the fans because they were fantastic for most of the game today.”

Thaigo was on the bench

Another surprising decision by the manager was to leave Thiago Alcantara on the bench. The Liverpool midfielder came into the tournament on the back of an impressive end to the recently concluded season. After struggling to find his feet in the first half of the season, the 30-year-old settled into the Liverpool system and became an important part of Jurgen Klopp’s team. He was crucial in assisting the Reds to go on an incredible winning streak, in the end, allowing them to finish in the top four.

The season before that, Thiago controlled the midfield in an all-conquering Bayern Munich side. He was instrumental in Bayern winning the treble that campaign. Going into Euro 2020, Thiago was expected to be the senior figure controlling the tempo of the match after Spain’s veteran midfielder Sergio Busquets tested positive for Covid-19.

With Sweden sitting deep in their half, preventing spaces for their opponents to work their way in, Thiago’s intricate passing could have opened the Swedish defence more. But he did not enter the field until the 65th minute. As a result, the midfielder did not have that much time in his hands to have an impact.

Spain completed a whopping 419 passes in the first half alone. All they lacked were players to capitalise on their utter dominance. Thiago could have been one of those players, with his varied passing game, who could have made the difference. But, for the time being, all Spain can do is lament their missed opportunity.

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