KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING: Spain, having struggled in their opening games, were given a literal helping hand in thrashing Slovakia 5-0 and securing a place in the knockout stages of Euro 2020.
A nightmare display by Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka assisted the three-times European champions to the biggest win of the finals so far.
Sweden topped the group by defeating bottom team Poland 3-2 with Spain finishing as runners-up and leaving Slovakia on three points and with a fatally poor goal difference.
Luis Enrique’s men, held by both Sweden and Poland, had no option but to beat Slovakia in Seville to stay alive in the European Championship their illustrious predecessors had won in 1964, 2008 and 2012.
While Group E leaders Sweden, already qualified, were quickly off to a goal-scoring start against Poland, Spain made initial hard work of their own task.
But once they hit their stride they ran up a hatful of goals against a Slovakia side who contributed the poorest performance of the finals by some distance.
Spain made a stuttering start by missing an early penalty.
Dutch referee Bjorn Kuipers was advised by VAR to undertake a screen check for a clash between Jakub Hromada and Koke then reversed his initial decision by awarding La Roja a penalty. Alvaro Morata shot hard to Dubravka’s right but the goalkeeper threw himself across goal to push the kick away.
This was Spain’s fifth successive penalty miss at international level.
Morata was then foiled twice more in quick succession by Dubravka but, on the halfhour, a goalkeeping howler presented Spain with the breakthrough they needed.
A drive by Pablo Sarabia hit the bar and flew up into the air but, as it descended, so Dubravka misjudged his attempt to push the ball over the bar and, instead, punched it down into his own net.
Dubravka was also at fault on Spain’s second goal 15 minutes later. This time he chased Gerard Moreno wide of goal after his team-mates failed to clear a corner and Aymeric Laporte headed home the striker’s chipped cross.
After that Spain never looked back as they enjoyed themselves in the second half with strikes from Sarabia and substitute Ferran Torres plus an own goal by Juraj Kucka.
In the other Group E clash, Sweden almost threw command of both their match against Poland and the group despite grabbing a two-goal lead in just under an hour with strikes from Emil Forsberg in the second and 59th minutes.
At that point they relaxed and were duly and properly punished.
FIFA’s world best player Robert Lewandowski pulled one back in the 61st minute and equalised in the 84th.
The Poles had needed to win to have any hope of qualifying but their desperation cost them discipline so Sweden broke away for Viktor Claesson to score a fine winner in stoppage time.
Group E – Slovakia v Spain
Luis Enrique, Spain coach: “Not every single thing came off for us but I’m satisfied because we made the fans enjoy themselves and my players are very happy with what they did. The atmosphere was superb and we now can’t wait for the next match. I warned everyone that when the cork was out of the bottle the champagne would flow and that’s what happened here. But we have things to improve, for sure.”
Aymeric Laporte, Spain defender: “I guess time stopped a little bit when the ball was dropping towards me for my goal and my head was filled with thoughts about where to try and head the ball to beat the keeper. I’ve said it from the start: this is a dream for me and I’m very happy indeed.”
Štefan Tarkovič, Slovakia coach: “It is difficult to play against such opposition. You need to be well organised, you need to play well in defence and we didn’t do that. To make such mistakes against Spain is simply not acceptable. We changed certain things and the formation as well but, after the third goal, it turned into an exhibition match for Spain.”
Martin Dúbravka, Slovakia goalkeeper: “The first goal was my fault. I will be regret this for a long time, but it’s happened. Then came the second and it was tough for us to the end of the game. Spain that controlled the game much more easily after that.”
Slovakia: Dúbravka – Pekarík, Šatka, Škriniar, Hubočan – Kucka, Hromada (Lobotka) – Haraslín (Suslov 69), Hamšík (Bénes 90), Mak (Weiss 69) – Duda (Ďuriš 46).
Spain: Unai Simón – Azpilicueta (Oyarzabal 77), Eric García (Pau Torres 71), Laporte, Jordi Alba – Koke, Busquets (Thiago Alcántara 71), Pedri – Sarabia, Morata (Ferran Torres 66), Gerard Moreno (Traoré 77).
Referee: Kuipers (Net).
Group E – Sweden v Poland
Janne Andersson, Sweden coach: “[Forsberg]’s a bit calmer as a person. He’s said himself that he feels more harmonious, and he’s been better on the pitch. He’s always been good with the national team, and it’s great he can be the decisive factor for us. Overall we defended well, although in the second half we defended a little too deep. We’ll have to look at the game again, analyse it, and see what we can do better.”
Emil Forsberg, Sweden forward: “It was a crazy start. It meant that they were more a little more desperate than us. They created chances, could have scored, and we had a bit of luck. At 2-0, the game should be over, but they equalised, and their goals came a little too easily. But then we got the third, and now it’s just pure happiness.”
Robert Lewandowski, Poland forward: “We’re sad and disappointed. Maybe we were lacking quality somehow, but we gave all we had. We’ve been unlucky at this tournament. We had many chances to score but didn’t convert enough of them. And our rivals sometimes had half a chance and they scored. I feel this team deserved more; for all that we gave here, the reward is too small.”
Sweden: Olsen – Lustig (Krafth 68), Lindelöf, Danielson, Augustinsson – Ekdal, Olsson – S Larsson, Forsberg (Claesson 78) – Quaison (Kulusevski 55), Isak (Berg 68).
Poland: Szczęsny – Bereszyński, Glik, Bednarek – Krychowiak (Płacheta 78), Klich (Kozłowski 73) – Jóźwiak (Świerczok 61), Świderski, Zieliński, Puchacz (Frankowski 46) – Lewandowski.
Referee: Oliver (Eng)