Spain endured a frustrating opening game in Euro 2020 as they failed to make their near total dominance pay against a rigid and stubborn Sweden in Seville.
Luis Enrique’s side had the vast majority of possession – 85% – and territory in the match, which at times resembled a session of attack versus defence, but were unable to take advantage of the good opportunities their build-up play yielded.
The best fell to Alvaro Morata, who was allowed in on goal by a fluffed attempted clearance from Marcus Danielson but side-footed his shot wide.
Dani Olmo also saw a close-range header tipped round the post by Swedish goalkeeper Robin Olsen, and Koke sliced an effort off target from inside the box.
Sweden’s best chance fell to La Liga’s young player of the year Alexander Isak, who muscled his way in for a shot that deflected off a Spanish defender, hit the post and looped straight to grateful keeper Unai Simon.
Isak also fashioned a great opportunity for partner Marcus Berg, who somehow managed to steer a shot from near point-blank range wide at the back post.
The result will do little to lift the downbeat mood of some of the Spanish public, who have seen the preparations of their national side overshadowed by the fallout of positive Covid-19 tests for two players and squad selection controversy.
The draw in Seville means Slovakia have the early advantage in Group E courtesy of their surprise 2-1 win over Poland earlier on Monday.
No nation has had the perfect preparation for this tournament as a result of the global pandemic, but few sides’ build-up has been quite as problematic and picked apart as that of Spain.
The positive Covid-19 tests for Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente and resulting fallout, along with the omission of any Real Madrid players from the squad, the most notable being Sergio Ramos, left many Spaniards hoping for rather than expecting success.
While not a patch on any of the squads that won three successive major tournaments between 2008 and 2012, this is still a talented group packed full of pace and vision.
This was born out throughout the game, as the side in red and blue shifted their opponent around the pitch, moved intelligently into space and forged openings, with Barcelona teenager Pedri prominent.
In the first-half alone they completed 419 passes – the highest figure in the opening 45 minutes of a European Championship game since data specialists Opta began collecting such information in 1980.
What Luis Enrique’s starting XI really lacked was a finisher.
Morata has 19 international goals to his name and a lot of big clubs on his CV but he floated through the contest and spurned his moment when it came.
Gerard Moreno – scorer of 30 goals for Villarreal last season – sat on the bench until the 75th minute and missed his own big chance in injury time with a header saved by Olsen. It was one of only two attempts on target in the second half.
Sweden will be delighted to have frustrated a big side in their own back yard. It wasn’t pretty but it was extremely effective and testament to a side with a work ethic and discipline in spades.
Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof is an occasionally maligned defender by fans in England, but here he was superb.
On the evidence of the two games we have witnessed so far in Group E, it is going to be fascinating watching it to a conclusion.