Group E preview
By Sam Portillo
This summer, Group E features Poland, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden. The teams are bringing a plethora of world-class talent on the plane – names such as Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski, Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte, Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and Inter Milan’s Skriniar. Spain will be favourites to top the group, but any of the other three are capable of an upset: no teams here are entitled to the top two spots.
Head coach: Paulo Sousa
Captain: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Key player: Robert Lewandowski
This Poland team features six players that started in the first game of their 2018 World Cup campaign. A spine of Juventus keeper Szczesny, holding midfielder Krychowiak and the mercurial Lewandowski will bring valuable experience to the camp, with all having started for Poland in the last two international tournaments and starred for their respective clubs since.
Benefitting from the protection of former Sevilla hardman Krychowiak will be Piotr Zielinski, who provided an impressive 8 goals and 10 assists for Napoli in Serie A last season.
In an age of ballplaying, quasi-midfielder defenders, few teams at the tournament can boast a more hardy defence than the Poles. Kamel Glik and Jan Bednarek in particular will be key as Poland attempt to limit the number of shots they concede, especially during the inevitable onslaught of through balls they will face when up against Spain. When they do concede shots, though, Poland can rely on one of the best shot stoppers in Europe to keep it out.
Head coach: Stefan Tarkovic
Captain: Marek Hamsik (IFK Goteborg)
Key player: Milan Skriniar (Inter Milan)
Lacking any natural goalscorers, if Slovakia want to progress through the groups, they will hope to keep clean sheets and hurt teams on set-pieces. Defensive assets Martin Dubravka and Milan Skriniar will be key in this mission. The latter will be riding a wave of confidence after playing a crucical part in a league-winning campaign with Inter Milan.
Draws with Cyprus, Malta and Bulgaria in their last five games suggest that Slovakia will struggle the most in this competitive group. Instead, they will have to rely on individual brilliance from players such as Hamsik. Ultimately, though, with many of their best players in the twilight of their careers, playing at lower levels for clubs such as Omania Nicosia in Cyprus and IFK Goteborg in Sweden, Slovakia may be too strained to make a success of the group stage.
Head coach: Luis Enrique
Captain: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona)
Key player: Thiago Alcantara (Liverpool)
Since 2018, the Spanish football association have entrusted former Barcelona manager Luis Enrique with returning the national side to glory. Few bastions of the ‘golden generation’ remain: Sergio Ramos is 35 now, and did not make the squad due to injury problems, while Busquets plays second fiddle to his younger and shinier replacement, Rodri.
Being compared to the likes of Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Villa is quite the high benchmark, but Spain head into EURO 2020 with a squad roster full of exciting talent. The dynamic Marcos Llorente should feature at right-back, having played a season at centre midfield for Atletico Madrid. In the centre of the field, Liverpool passmaster Thiago will enjoy Spain’s possession-oriented style perhaps more than anyone else: looking to find options in between the lines, he will serve as the link between defence and attack. Wide attackers Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres know how to scare defenders, the former – being a converted number 10 – more of a traditional playmaker, and the latter more of a wide goalscorer in the vein of Raheem Sterling.
Head coach: Janne Andersson
Captain: Andreas Granqvist
Key player: Alexander Isak
For the first time since 2000, Sweden will attend a European championships without Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The front line is still arguably home to the Blagult’s best player, though: Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak, who scored 17 goals in the last league season. Despite being technically good with his feet, the young striker is 6’2″ in height. Together with his likely partner in crime, the veteran Marcus Berg, the strike partnership will look to position themselves to get on the end of crosses. The talented wide midfielders, RB Leipzig’s Emil Forsberg and Juventus’s Kulusevski are also important to Sweden’s chances of progressing, and will be tasked with moving the ball into dangerous areas before either servicing the strikers or going for goal themselves.
Group E fixtures
Monday 14th June
Poland vs Slovakia, St. Petersburg
Spain vs Sweden, Seville
Friday 18th June
Sweden vs Slovakia, St. Petersburg
Saturday 19th June
Spain vs Poland, Seville
Wednesday 23rd June
Sweden vs Poland, St. Petersburg
Slovakia vs Spain, Seville