KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: The crucial factor in any tournament is not how a team or player start but how they finish. That will be the consolation for triple European champions Spain after their frustrating goalless opener against Sweden in Euro 2020.
In the 2010 World Cup they triumphed after opening with a defeat by Switzerland and on their way to retaining the European crown in 2012 La Roja started with a 1-1 draw against Italy.
If they are step up and regain European primacy in this delayed Euro they must be more clinical in front of goal than against the defensively disciplined Swedes. Spain will also need to beware the complacency which twice almost gifted Sweden goals on the counter-attack.
Building anew is the responsibility of manager Luis Enrique, the former Barcelona and Real Madrid midfielder.
He had met this acid test by discarding the international experience of anyone from Madrid – including standard-bearing captain Sergio Ramos – and entrusting his fate to a new generation, notably the 18-year-old Pedri.
Sweden, familiar in their long-established 4-4-2 shape, had expected to have a revived Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading their attack until a springtime knee injury ended his return only weeks after it had begun.
This new-look Spain forged forward from the kickoff, owned possession for almost all the game but wasted those chances which came their way. They had only themselves to blame for the failure to win and the whistles and jeers in the ears.
Dani Olmo lofted an early chance over the bar then Koke was narrowly wide with an angled shot across goal after a raid on the left.
Koke should have claimed his first international goal on the halfhour but shot hastily over the bar as he ran in close to the penalty spot.
Not until almost 40 minutes had gone did Sweden find themselves unusually in the Spanish penalty box but their first corner of the game came to nothing and normal, Spanish, service was quickly resumed.
Alvaro Morata should have opened the score after a defensive slip by Marcus Danielsson but pushed his shot wide of Robin Olsson and the keeper’s left-hand post.
Spain were floating the ball around the full width of the pitch at speed, sending Sweden’s midfielders spinning on their axis. Yet they kept plugging away and might even have claimed rewards of their own.
Just before halftime Alexander Isak slipped into the penalty box and unleased a low shot which ricocheted off Marcos Llorente, off a post and into the arms of keeper Simon.
Isak, who plays his club football in Spain with Real Sociedad, embarrassed La Roja again on the hour when his delicate footwork chipped a gap in their defence only for veteran strike partner Marcus Berg to scoop the ball wide at the far post.
Spain responded with a double substitution, introducing Pablo Sarabia and Thiago Alcantara for Morata and Rodri, but the only effect of more replacements arriving was to further fracture the rhythm which Spain had achieved in the first half.
In their increasing desperation they abandoned the use of the wings which had marked the first half and, instead, clogged up the game in midfield – which, of course, suited Sweden.
Spain did almost break through in the last minute only for Olsson to deny Gerard’s glancing header to Sarabia’s angled cross. Then it was Sarabia who failed to control a cross which ricocheted back into the goalkeeper’s hands.
Sweden had made their point.
Luis Enrique, Spain coach: “We faced a team who decided to defend and base all their hopes on a long ball forward. Even so, they had the chance to win. A draw like this feels bad and I’m sorry for the players and the fans because this was a night to win. Our preoccupation is to create goal chances and we did that but we didn’t tuck them away.”
Janne Andersson, Sweden coach: “We created some chances and they created some, so all in all I’m not disappointed in this point. If we’re to take points or win against this kind of a team, we have to play like this. The dedication that the players demonstrated in implementing our game plan was fantastic.”
Alexander Isak, Sweden forward: “We would have wanted a little more possession to have been able to create a little more. But you need to accept the state of things. We did that really well today. We fought until the last minute. Beforehand, we would have been happy with one point. We’re really satisfied with the result.”
Robin Olsen, Sweden goalkeeper: “The way the boys kept running in this heat, I wasn’t alone in securing this point. It was an incredible team effort. It’s not the best match we’ve played and not our most deserved point, but we battled, we really battled. Watching from behind, how hard the boys ran, makes me proud.”
Spain: Simon – Marcos Llorente, Laporte, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba – Koke (Fabian Ruiz 87), Rodri ( Thiago Alcantara 66), Pedri – Ferran Torres (Oyazarbal 74), Morata (Sarabia 66), Olmo (Gerard Moreno 74).
Subs: de Gea, Azpilicueta, Diego Llorente, Garcia, Sanchez, Gaya, Traore.
Sweden: Olsen – Lustig (Krafth 75), Danielson, Lindelof, Augustinsson – Sebastian Larsson, Ekdal, Olsson (Cajus 84te), Forsberg (Bengtsson 84) – Berg (Quaison 69), Isak (Claesson 69).
Subs: Johnsson, Svensson, Helander, Sema, Jansson, Nordfeldt, Jordan Larsson.
Referee: Vincic (Sna).