Seville (Spain) (AFP) – Spain are no longer the most feared side in Europe that swept all before them between 2008 and 2012. A new generation is now tasked with restoring their former glories at Euro 2020.
AFP Sport looks at what to expect from Group E with Sweden, Poland and Slovakia also hoping for a place in the last 16.
The three-time winners have failed to even make the quarter-finals in their past three tournaments.
Luis Enrique is looking forward rather than to the past for inspiration as he controversially left out Sergio Ramos due to his fitness problems and for the first time Spain head to a major tournament without a Real Madrid player in their ranks.
Instead there is a crop of key players plying their trade abroad. Manchester City’s Ferran Torres scored a hat-trick in a 6-0 demolition of Germany in the Nations League in October, while his club teammate Aymeric Laporte has switched his allegiances from France.
Bilbao was ditched as a host city late on due to coronavirus restrictions, but La Furia Roja will get a warmer welcome in Seville for their three group games.
Player to watch: Pau Torres
Few players on the continent come into the tournament on the high that Torres does after helping his boyhood club Villarreal to a first ever major trophy by beating Manchester United to lift the Europa League.
United are one of a host of clubs monitoring the classy centre-back, who could seal a big move if he impresses stepping into the void left by Ramos and the retired Gerard Pique.
Injury prevents Zlatan Ibrahimovic making his return to the international stage, but the Swedes boast a new generation of strikers looking to fill the 39-year-old’s shoes.
Alexander Isak scored 17 goals in La Liga for Real Sociedad this season, while Jordan Larsson, son of former Celtic, Manchester United and Barcelona striker Henrik, is in the squad after an impressive campaign with Spartak Moscow.
Juventus’ Dejan Kulusevski could add an extra creative spark to the side that reached the World Cup quarter-finals three years ago, but elsewhere Janne Andersson will be reliant on an ageing core of Robin Olsen, Andreas Granquist, Mikel Lustig, Sebastian Larsson and Emil Forsberg despite concern over their form and fitness.
Player to watch: Alexander Isak
Only five players, including Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Karim Benzema, scored more goals than Isak in La Liga this season. At 6ft 4in (1.90m) he possesses a strong physical presence for a 21-year-old, but is happier with the ball into feet than attacking crosses.
Slovakia made it out the group at their first appearance at a European Championship five years ago, but will do well to match that achievement this time.
Captain Marek Hamsik is no longer the force he was in his prime at Napoli and is now playing for IFK Gothenburg in Sweden.
A 2-1 win over Russia in World Cup qualifying in March shows the Slovaks are capable in a one-off game, but that shock result followed draws with Cyprus and Malta.
Player to watch: Milan Skriniar
Slovakia will need clean sheets to upset the odds and have one of Europe’s top centre-backs in Skriniar, who was vital to Inter Milan’s first Serie A title for 10 years.
Quarter-finalists in France five years ago, the Poles’ fortunes again rely heavily on the goals of Robert Lewandowski.
They head into the tournament under new management with the much-travelled Paulo Sousa replacing Jerzy Brzeczek, who was sacked after losing twice to Italy and the Netherlands in the Nations League, in January.
Midfielders Piotr Zielinski and Mateusz Klich starred for Napoli and Leeds respectively this season and will have the task of ensuring Lewandowski gets the service he has become accustomed to a Bayern Munich.
Player to watch: Robert Lewandowski
After breaking Gerd Mueller’s 49-year-old record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, Lewandowski could put himself in the frame for the Ballon d’Or many thought he was denied in 2020 when the award was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite scoring 66 international goals, Lewandowski is yet to shine at a major tournament, scoring just once on home soil at Euro 2012 and Euro 2016.
Fixtures (all times GMT)
Poland v Slovakia (1600)
Spain v Sweden (1900)
Sweden v Slovakia (1300)
Spain v Poland (1900)
Spain v Slovakia (1600)
Poland v Sweden (1600)
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