Spain’s 0-0 Draw with Sweden shows why they are contenders, and why they aren’t

As the highlights of Spain’s wins at Euro 2008, the World Cup 2010, and Euro 2012 played over and over again prior to the tournament, it’s easy to forget that the Spain squad of Euro 2020 (2021? oh well) is not a continuation of that squad, but a descendant. Sergio Busquets is still around, though he’s dealing with Covid-19 at moment, and Jordi Alba, who was a member of the Euro 2012 squad as a Valencia player, was named Luis Enrique’s captain for the opening match against Sweden. Sergio Ramos’ absence is the truest indication that the page has turned for a new Spanish squad that must prove itself all over again.

Playing for La Roja any time since 2008 means that you’re a tournament favorite, even if you’re not. At Euro 2020, Germany are dealing with the same expectations. France is a class above, with most of the other major contenders battling it out for second. Germany, Spain, Italy, England, Belgium, Portugal, and the Netherlands could all win without anyone batting an eye. The downside for Spain; since Portugal, Germany, and France are all in the same group, there is a chance of facing one of them in the next round regardless of your own finish in the group.

That’s to say Spain will get out of their group with Sweden, Slovakia, and Poland. The game plan for Slovakia and Poland has already been laid out by the Swedes – play a low block and force Spain to beat you with their questionable goalscorers. La Roja has gone years in a major tournament without scoring outside of the box, and that didn’t look like changing against Sweden.

The bright side is that I’m not sure you’ll see a more one-sided first half in this tournament, and that could be a sign of things to come. Pedri, Koke, Rodri, Dani Olmo, Marcos Llorente, Jordi Alba, Aymeric Laporte. Spain was oozing with class and good ideas. Unfortunately the ball never landed in the back of the net.

The draw means that none of Luis Enrique’s questions were answered. Does Spain have enough depth while dealing with Covid, plus the boss only bringing 24 players? Can Morata finally score the big goals he rarely scores? If Morata can’t, can Gerard Moreno? Will this very talented squad, who are quite accomplished at club level but lacking in international experience, be able to navigate this kind of tournament and break down teams with no intention of using the ball?

Most of those questions seemed to be answerable in the affirmative in the first half, with the exception of that little goal thing, but the second half put every one of those questions back into doubt. The talent is there with this squad, but can they overcome all their issues?

Dan Hilton is an American journalist, broadcaster, and current Editor-in-Chief of BarcaBlog. Extensive work as a play-by-play broadcaster, producer behind the scenes, and quite average player in his younger years has given him a well-rounded and informative perspective on the sport. Alongside BarcaBlog founder Francesc, Dan started The Barcelona Podcast in 2017