Spain v Sweden: Iberians can overcome stubborn Swedes

Spain start their Euro 2020 campaign against Sweden in Seville on Monday night and Mark O'Haire is backing the three-time winners to edge the Group E encounter...

Spain hit by COVID outbreak

Spain's Euro 2020 plans and preparations have been thrown into chaos following positive COVID tests for Sergio Busquets and Diego Llorente. The senior squad and all coaching staff were immediately placed into isolation last Sunday with only individual training programmes allowed to take place before approval was given by the authorities to resume.

La Roja were forced to draft in the U21s to fulfil their final warm-up fixture against Lithuania, with a 17-man group now brought in to train in a parallel bubble should the breakout worsen before the weekend. The Iberians had appeared in decent shape beforehand, putting in another encouraging performance in a 0-0 draw against Portugal.

Things have rarely been placid in the Spanish camp, mind. Head coach Luis Enrique remains under serious scrutiny from the Spanish press after selecting a squad without skipper Sergio Ramos, or any of his Real Madrid team mates. The treble-winner stayed true to his word, picking players on form rather than reputation.

Sweden dealing with own COVID issues

Sweden have had to contend with their own COVID crisis leading into their Euro 2020 opener. Head coach Janne Andersson announced that eye-catching forward Dejan Kulusevski will not be available to face Spain after testing positive, whilst it was later confirmed that midfielder Mattias Svanberg was also ruled out due to COVID.

The Scandinavians were hoping to make a dent this summer after reaching the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup, the Blue-Yellow's best display at the top table of international football since a memorable third-place finish in 1994. With domestic miracle-worker Andersson still in situ, the side have progressed in the following three years.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's return was foiled by injury but Sweden still boast a strong structure to be competitive. The traditional 4-4-2 remains in place and Andersson's pragmatic outfit are well accustomed to disciplined, organised and aggressive efforts. A threat from set-pieces, and direct on the counter-attack, the Blue-Yellow are functional rather than flashy.

Spain strong favs in Seville

Spain have enjoyed W6-D5-L3 head-to-head dominance against Sweden since the duo first locked swords at the 1950 World Cup. The pair have met competitively on five occasions since 2006, with the most recent two tussles arriving in qualifying for this competition - Sweden picked up a well-earned point at home with Spain winning 3-0 in the reverse.

Spain 1.49 have suffered a solitary defeat since November 2018 (W15-D8-L1) and have the bonus of home advantage in the group-stage. La Roja have been beaten just once on home soil in competitive action going back to 2003 (losing to England in the Nations League in 2018) but have only tabled a solitary success in their last five major tournament openers.

Sweden 9.00 have fallen at the first hurdle in four of their last five appearances at the Euros and a first date with Spain in Seville is bound to be difficult. A poor Nations League campaign in 2020 raises concerns, although the Blue-Yellow are accustomed to seeing a negative share on possession and will focus on being compact and difficult to beat.

Stubborn Swedes can keep things tight

The opening round of group games at a major tournament tend to be the tightest and the European Championship is no exception. Since the start of Euro '96, a huge 66% of first round group games have produced Under 2.5 Goals 1.57 with just 2.15 goals per-game on average. At Euro 2016, that average dropped to 1.83 with 83% of games going Under 2.5.

Spain's competitive matches since the 2018 World Cup have produced more goals than most with 65% of 23 tussles providing Over 2.5 Goals 2.08 profit with 57% of those fixtures also delivering Both Teams To Score winners 2.36. Provided Luis Enrique is able to select close to his preferred XI, it would be a surprise if La Roja failed to get on the scoresheet.

Sweden's showdowns have proven to be tighter affairs and the underdogs looked most likely to revert to a contain and counter approach, sitting back to see if they can frustrate Spain in a low block whilst making the most of set-piece opportunities and transitions. Ultimately, the hosts should have enough to secure top honours in a tight contest.

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