With Euro 2020 now just around the corner, GiveMeSport shines a light on Group D, assessing the chances of Spain, Sweden, Poland and Slovakia.
FIFA ranking: 6
Best Euros finish: Winners (1964, 2008, 2012)
Best player: Thiago
The glory days feel like an awfully long time ago, but there’s an air of encouragement with this generation of the Spanish national team. Their last three major international tournaments were poor, but under Luis Enrique, they’ve looked good.
The squad has a good mix of experience and youth, and they were undefeated in qualifying, winning eight from 10 and conceding just five goals in that period. Their form in 2020 was patchy, winning just three out of eight games, but the 6-0 win over Germany was a reminder of how good they can be.
Coach Enrique made a very surprising exclusion to his team of 24 (not even filling the quota) – that of Sergio Ramos, but their defence has been boosted by Aymeric Laporte, who switched allegiance from France.
Laporte is expected to form a partnership at the back with Pau Torres. As is often the case, their midfield is where the strength lies: the likes of Thiago, Sergio Busquets, Rodri, Pedri, Fabián Ruiz and Koke will all be a part of it. Gerard Moreno, who is likely to lead the line, has also been impressive in LaLiga.
As was the case in 2014, 2016 and 2018, they struggled against low blocks and it could haunt them in this group, but they should still make it through. This Spanish generation is new and eager to make a mark and they have the quality to make the last eight.
FIFA ranking: 18
Best finish: Semi-finals (1992)
Best player: Alexander Isak
Sweden have been resolute in defence throughout qualifying and in the World Cup in 2018 where they reached the last eight, and much of the same will be expected again.
They went away from that style in the Nations League and ended up getting relegated — suffering defeats against France, Portugal and Croatia — but at the Euros, the return of a more defensive approach is expected.
The squad is experienced, but perhaps too experienced. Travelling for the tournament will be 12 players over 30, including 36-year-old captain Andreas Granqvist. Had it not been for injury, Zlatan Ibrahimović, 39, would’ve been involved too.
The Swedes can take pride from the fact that some of their attacking players have impressed this season. If the Euros took place in 2020, Emil Forsberg likely would’ve struggled but he’s had an injury-free campaign since and was crucial to RB Leipzig.
Alexander Isak, the team’s most exciting player, matched Ibrahimović’s 11-year record for the most goals by a Swede in LaLiga (16) with Real Sociedad and Dejan Kulusevski, despite a relatively slow campaign with Juventus, is capable of moments of brilliance. At the back, Manchester United’s Victor Lindelöf has to provide leadership.
It’s hard to see them reaching the quarter-finals like the World Cup but finishing second in this group will be the minimum expectation. The Round of 16 is likely to be as far as they can go.
FIFA ranking: 21
Best finish: Quarter-finals (2016)
Best player: Robert Lewandowski
Poland enter the Euros with coach Paulo Sousa having managed just three games with the national team. Sousa joined at the start of 2021 after Jerzy Brzęczek so it’s difficult to predict what his set-up will be, but Poland’s recent form might be an indicator.
They breezed through qualifying against sides of lesser quality but when it came to the Nations League, they struggled against the likes of Italy and the Netherlands. In a group consisting of a talented Spain and emerging Sweden, that may not be the best omen.
However, they can take hope from the fact that they have the best forward in world football. Robert Lewandowski will join the team on the back of a record-breaking season with Bayern Munich, where he beat Gerd Müller’s 40-goal single-season Bundesliga record.
The simple thing to do would be to give him the ball anywhere in the box. The core of himself, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Kamil Glik and Łukasz Fabiański is quite experienced and in what is possibly their last tournament together, they will want to do well. Elsewhere, Piotr Zieliński and Arkadiusz Milik, on the back of fine domestic seasons, will want to impress.
This team may get through the group stages, even possibly as a third-placed team, but beyond that, who they face will determine how far they can go.
FIFA ranking: 36
Best finish: Round of 16 (2016)
Best player: Milan Škriniar
This Slovakian team have a few talents amongst them. Milan Škriniar is a leader at the back, Martin Dúbravka has the quality to make a difference in net and Marek Hamšík is a hero.
While things may look alright on paper, in reality, it’s anything but. Slovakia enter the Euros on the back of some inconsistent form and needed the play-offs to qualify. They appointed coach Štefan Tarkovič just before the play-off final against Northern Ireland and he led them to an extra-time win.
They’re at the Euros, but expectation is low. In a tricky group consisting of Spain and tricky tests against Poland and Sweden, many feel they’ll finish rock bottom, but the schedule might be helpful.
The toughest test, against the Spaniards, is their final game in the group – if they can grab a few points before then, there’s a chance they sneak into third. A worry will be the age of the squad, with 10 players over the age of 30 a part of it, including captain Hamšík (33) and defender Peter Pekarík (34).
Slovakia qualified for their first-ever Euros in 2016, and now they’ve made two in a row. They didn’t show much unity in their qualifying group, but that came out against Northern Ireland in the play-offs. Doing the same once again is essential if they are to have a summer of some good memories.News Now - Sport News