The 2012 European champions, Spain, kick off their Euro 2020 campaign with a Group E clash against Sweden.
The Spaniards also won Euro 2008 and the World Cup in 2010 to assert their dominance on planet football, but a fallow period since then – they haven’t gone past the last 16 of any of their last three major tournament appearances – has led to a changing of the guard.
They will host this game and indeed their other two Group E outings, but the Spanish FA has drawn criticism for holding the matches in the San Mames Stadium in Bilbao – which is part of the Basque Country, rather than the country’s ‘mainland’. There will still be more than 50,000 people in attendance, of course, but national fervour might not be as rabid as it might otherwise have been.
As for Sweden, they will be looking to build on a decent turn at the World Cup in Russia, where they made it all the way through to the quarter-finals. They qualified for these finals in decent fashion as well, and so will be confident of further success.
But the standout point that informs our Spain vs Sweden preview is that, unusually, they were actually in the same qualification group.
Spain won 3-0 on home soil before drawing 1-1 in Sweden, so the former champions clearly have an edge.
But will that matter on June 15? Let’s take a look in our preview.
Home advantage and recent head-to-head success….it’s not a surprise to learn who gets top billing from the bookmakers here.
The hosts are a 1.35 favourite in the Spain vs Sweden betting odds, with the Swedes an intriguing outsider at 8.00.
The draw can be backed at odds of 4.95.
2. Spain vs Sweden - Euro 2020
Words like dismal, insipid and workmanlike were used to describe Spain’s performances in the World Cup of 2018, and now the job of head coach Luis Enrique is to rekindle his country’s love of international football and rediscover their identity.
Was that achieved in qualifying for Euro 2020? Perhaps. They were outstanding on home soil, wining all five of their matches with a goal difference of +20. The only question mark came on the road, where they dropped points in two of their games and conceded in four out of five.
The main problem here is that 38 players were used in the qualification campaign, and so you wonder if Enrique really knows what his best starting eleven is.
There are clearly some outstanding talents here, but key men have ageing legs – Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Iago Aspas – while some other prominent figures such as Marco Asensio and Dani Ceballos can’t even get a game for their club sides.
This is not a stellar generation of Spanish players, and you could argue that they are there for the taking.
But can Sweden take advantage? Like Spain, they are reliant on senior figures such as Sebastian Larsson, Mikael Lustig, Gustav Svensson and Marcus Berg, who are all aged 32 or over and come with the battle scars their senior years brings.
There aren’t many stars in this Sweden squad nor players who really catch the eye, and they will presumably try to grind results out rather than going for the jugular while playing on the front foot.