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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Euro 2020 Group E: Spain’s youth movement, Poland’s reliance on Lewandowski

Poland’s dependence on Robert Lewandowski is the team's biggest concern for the European Championship.

By: AP |
Updated: June 2, 2021 8:46:48 pm
euro 2020 group eSlovakia's hopes for success will be pinned on Hamsik while Poland are dependent on Robert Lewandowski. (AP Photo)

Luis Enrique banking on Spain’s youth movement

“Tiki-taka” is over, and Spain coach Luis Enrique is ready to move on.

Since winning back-to-back European Championships with the 2010 World Cup title in between, Spain has been a flop at major soccer tournaments as the team’s aging veterans lost their luster.

Luis Enrique, who first took over the national team following the debacle at the 2018 World Cup, has not shied away from rejuvenating the squad with little-known players in their early 20s. He even left veteran Sergio Ramos off his squad after the injury problems the Real Madrid defender had this season.

The coach’s new pool of attacking players includes Manchester City’s Ferran Torres (21), Leipzig’s Dani Olmo (23), Barcelona’s Pedri González (18), and Wolverhampton’s Adama Traoré (25).

Questions, however, remain about who will carry the scoring load for a team that has been without a top striker since the international retirements of David Villa and Fernando Torres.

Álvaro Morata has 19 goals in 39 appearances for Spain, but the Juventus striker has never excelled at a major tournament. Gerard Moreno scored 30 goals for Villarreal and helped the team win the Europa League this season, but even at the age of 29 he is still untested in a major competition. The same doubt goes for Mikel Oyarzabal, who helped Real Sociedad win the postponed 2020 Copa del Rey title in April. Barcelona phenomenon Ansu Fati is injured.

Slovakia again pins its hopes on Marek Hamšík

After reaching the last 16 at the European Championship five years ago, Slovakia’s hopes for success at this year’s tournament will be pinned on the same player as last time.

Five different coaches have been in charge and a handful of regulars have retired since Euro 2016, but captain Marek Hamšík remains the team’s figurehead.

Without Hamšík, Slovakia got off to a poor start in its 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign in March when it failed to beat Cyprus and Malta. The team recovered a bit with a 2-1 win over Russia.

In search for more consistency at the European Championship, Tarkovic, who was an assistant to Ján Kozák at Euro 2016 and replaced Pavel Hapal in October, will turn to Hamšík — again.

Sweden returns to life without Ibrahimovic

Sweden was just starting to dream a little bigger ahead of the European Championship with its greatest ever player back in the squad after Zlatan Ibrahimovic ended his five-year international retirement in March.

All that optimism has been punctured, though, after the 39-year-old Ibrahimovic ruled himself out of the tournament last month because of a knee injury.

So, Sweden is back to square one after a frenzied two months of Zlatan-mania.

Now players have come out of their shells. Like striker Alexander Isak and wide midfielders Emil Forsberg and Dejan Kulusevski, exciting attackers who can make a difference in their own right.

Sweden quickly needs to move on. Who knows, Ibrahimovic’s absence may yet prove a blessing in disguise.

Poland wary of reliance on Robert Lewandowski

Poland’s dependence on Robert Lewandowski is the team’s biggest concern for the European Championship.

The 32-year-old Lewandowski is already the country’s leading scorer with 66 goals in a record 118 appearances, and he just broke the Bundesliga’s 49-year-old record for goals in a season with 41 in 29 appearances for Bayern Munich.

Just over his last 10 games, Lewandowski has scored 17 goals.

Lewandowski will be supported up front by Arkadiusz Milik, who spent last season at Marseille on loan from Napoli, but Hertha Berlin forward Krzysztof Piatek is out of the tournament with an ankle injury.

Other options in attack include Dawid Kownacki of Fortuna Düsseldorf, Karol Swiderski of PAOK Thessaloniki and Jakub Swierczok of Piast Gliwice — a surprise inclusion despite a fine season for the Polish club. None come close to the caliber of Lewandowski, however.

Poland has other mainstays in the squad, notably defensive lynchpin Kamil Glik of Benevento and driving midfield force Grzegorz Krychowiak of Lokomotiv Moscow. Glik, now 33, makes up for a lack of pace with anticipation, while Krychowiak — who previously played for Reims, Sevilla and PSG — helps with his experience and positional play.

In goal, however, Sousa faces a dilemma. Regular starter Wojciech Szczesny is in poor form so West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski could take his place.

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