Spain couldn’t overcome Sweden and Slovakia pulls off an upset.
Spain’s impeccable 85% of possession was not enough.
The opening game turned out more challenging for Spain than what the statistical representation suggests. Spain’s control of the ball and the middle of the pitch pushed Sweden to their defensive quarter. Spain definitely had the opportunities (1.8 xG) but lacked composure.
Spain’s dominance was evident throughout the game, but wasn’t enough. Sweden’s defensive work was excellent as they intercepted the ball 34 times. Markus Danielson did great in his 10th appearance, while Spain’s shots on target were dealt by Robin Olsen (5 saves). An otherwise impressive feat for Spain was that they completed 841 passes, nevertheless, passes don’t win football games alone.
Star of the match was Victor Lindelöf whose defensive contributions were indispensable to his team. Lindelöf enjoyed a 78.6% pass completion, second only to Albin Ekdal.
Spain’s defensive work wasn’t that great though. Alexander Isak (2/3 dribbles) dribbled past their central defenders twice, missed a chance and created another one for Marcus Berg.
For Spain, Dani Olmo (2/5 shots on target) had a good game and could have scored if it wasn’t for Olsen. Together with Jordi Alba, they dominated the left side creating some of Spain’s clear cut chances. Pablo Sarabia’s (4 crosses, 0.4 xA) impact on the game in only 25 minutes could have been crucial. Spain worked hard for the win but couldn’t break the structured, and defensively focused Sweden.
Poland fails to win another opening game of a major tournament.
Robert Lewandowski disappointed Polish fans as he failed to hit the target in 5 shots. Slovakian defensive duo Milan Škriniar and Ľubomír Šatka put a halt to one of Europe’s most prolific scorers. Combined, the duo achieved 10 tackles and interceptions out of Slovakia’s total of 35.
Wojciech Szczęsny was once again unlucky, scoring an own-goal, while he saved 1 shot. Grzegorz Krychowiak was sent off, being detrimental to his team’s winning chances. Poland’s own-goal and red card combination hadn’t appeared in the European Championship since 1976.
Slovakia scored 2 goals with a 0.3 xG, and had only 2 shots on target. Nevertheless, they made their opportunities count while they also remained concentrated in their defensive efforts. Compared to Poland, they made more interceptions (23 to 10) and blocks (21 to 13).
Slovakia used their possession wisely. While they held the ball less than their opponents (58% to 42%) they achieved more successful dribbles (7 to 9). Robert Mak’s goal is proof to how important successful dribbles were for Slovakia. Ondrej Duda bossed the midfield with 3 successful dribbles, 4 fouls drawn, and crucially carried the ball to forward positions.
Slovakia scored their second goal from their second and last corner of the game. Poland also won only 2 corners. Dead balls were a good opportunity for the Slovaks to push forward, and control the rhythm of the game. However, it was the Polish players that crossed the ball significantly more than their opponents (23 to 3). In response, the Slovaks dealt with them rather easily (29 clearances).
Spain favoured to win against Poland, Sweden and Slovakia’s gameplay strategy a mystery.
Spain is favoured (71% win) to win against Poland in a game that is crucial for both of them. Will Lewandowski manage to score and will Alvaro Morata be Spain’s difference-maker? Poland is not set to defend in their defensive quarter like Sweden did. It will be interesting to see if they choose to attack early on the game. Whatever happens we predict an exciting battle between two good football teams.
Sweden and Slovakia assumed defensive roles in their opening games. Both teams gave space to their opponents, waiting behind the ball for their opportunity to counter-attack. Their clash should be an interesting game. Will both teams attack the ball, or will Slovakia settle with a defensive role that arguably suits them? Sweden is the favourite but we should not write off Slovakia.