Spain and Poland shared the spoils at the Estadio de la Cartuja in Sevilla on Saturday evening, with Alvaro Morata’s 25th-minute opener cancelled out by Robert Lewandowski in the 54th.
It’s far from an ideal position for both teams now, as they desperately need to win their respective matches against Slovakia and Sweden in the final round to have a real hope of going through from Group E, currently topped by Sweden who previously beat Slovakia by 1-0.
Sweden have four points, Slovakia three, Spain two and Poland one.
The choices of Luis Enrique
Spain boss Luis Enrique named almost the same lineup which started their goalless draw against Sweden in the opening round, the only change being Gerard Moreno instead of Ferran Torres on the left attacking flank.
There are several players in the Spain squad who are widely believed capable of making a difference who are yet to make an appearance at the tournament, and it’s not easy to understand Enrique’s reluctance to give them a chance. With a shrewd pass needed now and then to break through stubborn defensive lines, it stands to reason to have someone like Thiago Alcantara on the pitch.
The Liverpool midfielder had a difficult maiden season in the Premier League as the Merseysiders struggled with an injury crisis, but he grew into his role towards the end of the campaign and reached considerable form to help his team secure a top-four finish.
Meanwhile, Wolverhampton Wanderers winger Adama Traore, openly named as the fastest player in the squad by his teammates, would certainly provide some penetration down the flanks, but like with Thiago, Enrique doesn’t seem willing to put his faith in the 25-year-old. Many are wondering why.
There are certain tactical reasons why managers sometimes name a midfielder for a fullback role; we’ve seen it many times in recent years. But it only stands to reason to use the captain of the Champions League-winning team if you have him in your ranks. Nonetheless, Cesar Azpilicueta has so far been forced to sit on the bench and watch Marcos Llorente on the right defensive flank.
The match was loaded with physical contests between the players of the two teams, perhaps more so than may have been expected. In fact, Morata, the scorer of the opening goal, was arguably lucky to avoid a red card – certainly a yellow one – when he previously stamped on the foot of Kamil Glik and pushed him down to the ground. Referee Daniele Orsato chose not to give a foul at all, interestingly enough, much to the dismay of the Poland defender.
There were plenty of elbows thrown about in aerial duels, not only between Glik and Morata, but also Lewandowski and the Spain centre-backs Aymeric Laporte and Pau Torres at the other end of the pitch. Koke and Jakub Moder had several battles of their own in the middle of the park, with neither too gentle towards the other.
Orsato let the game flow through a number of situations where other referees would probably have blown the whistle, and he needed the help of VAR to award Spain a penalty in the 57th minute after Moder almost injured Moreno by catching him late inside the box. Unfortunately for Spain, Moreno’s shot from the spot hit the post and Morata failed to hit the target from the rebound. Interestingly enough, Morata’s opener was initially ruled out for offside, but the technology stepped in to rule differently.
Those favouring Spain could also argue that Lewandowski’s equalizer might have been a result of a foul on Laporte, but it seemed that the Bayern Munich striker drew on his vast experience to move the Manchester City centre-back out of his way with just enough tact to avoid it being given.
The class of Lewandowski
Spain were the better team for the largest part of this contest, there can be no doubt about that; they had 77% of possession and took 12 shots, compared to Poland’s five. But it was also clear to see for those who would that Lewandowski was the best player on the pitch.
The 32-year-old striker, who scored 48 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions for the Bundesliga champions, is sometimes simply impossible to stop, as Laporte found out in the 54th minute. He was a constant handful for both Laporte and Pau Torres, and they often had to resort to all sorts of illegal means of dealing with him; not that he himself didn’t do the same sometimes.
But it’s always the mark of a great attacking player (Cristiano Ronaldo often comes to mind in that aspect) that he’s capable of pulling his team out of a hole when they’ve already been written off, and that’s what Lewandowski did on this occasion. One moment, one good ball towards him when he’s inside the box, and he’ll do the job, even if he’s been cut off and seemingly dealt with for rest of the match.
At the age of 32, there still several years of top football in Robert Lewandowski.
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