Slovakia v Spain
Wednesday June 23, 17:00
Live on ITV
Slovakia fail to fire
After turning 10-man Poland over in their Euro 2020 opener, Slovakia slumped to a dismal 1-0 defeat against Sweden on Friday evening. Stefan Tarkovic's team could have secured a place in the knockout stages with a positive result but the Falcons failed to land a single shot on-target despite dominating possession in Saint Petersburg.
An uninspiring first half witnessed only five attempts at goal, but things improved for neutrals after the interval with Sweden asserting themselves and looking the most likely. However, the only goal of the game arrived just 13 minutes from time as Emil Forsberg's slotted home after Robin Quaison was brought down by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.
Dubravka had earlier denied the Scandinavians with a couple of smart saves with the Newcastle stopper comfortably the most impressive performer in Slovakian colours. A first loss in six has now put the Repre under major pressure heading to sweaty Seville - a second successive reverse is unlikely to be enough to see Slovakia into the last-16.
Spain held again
Three-time continental champions Spain remain winless at Euro 2020 following back-to-back draws against Sweden (0-0) and most recently with Poland (1-1). La Roja looked to be heading towards a vital three points when Alvaro Morata's close-range finish was given by VAR after initially being ruled out for offside midway through the opening 45 minutes.
But Poland equalised early in the second half through Robert Lewandowski, and Luis Enrique's troops were unable to find a winner thereafter with Gerard Moreno seeing a penalty slam against the post. Ferran Torres headed wide and Morata was denied from point-blank range as the Iberians piled the pressure on late on without reward.
Despite enjoying 77% of the ball, Spain managed just 12 attempts with their play too often sluggish, predictable and lacking in urgency. A second stalemate on the spin means La Roja must beat Slovakia on Wednesday evening to guarantee progression - a draw would only work if Poland fail to win and Spain go through as a best third-placed team on three points.
Slovakia and Spain have met on six previous occasions, with the most recent five arriving in competitive action. Spain boast a W4-D1-L1 head-to-head advantage, earning top honours in the duos most recent showdown in 2015, a Euro 2016 qualifier in Oviedo. However, Slovakia did succeed in the reverse encounter in Zilina just 11 months earlier.
Slovakia 19.0018/1 have bagged just three victories in 18 internationals (W3-D9-L6), failing to beat the likes of Malta, Cyprus and Israel with a contain and counter approach aimed at frustrating opponents. The Repre's over-catious system has seen the underdogs land just two on-target strikes at Euro 2020, as well as failing to create a single Big Chance and only 0.90 Expected Goals (xG).
Spain 1.241/4 have attracted plenty of understandable criticism for their own style, although La Roja have created opportunities. No nation generated a higher xG figure across the first two matchdays with the Iberians also topping the charts for possession and Big Chances. The hosts have W15-D10-L1 since November 2018 and tabled 16 wins in 20 unbeaten home matches when excluding the five teams above them in the rankings since September 2017.
Third round group games at major tournaments tend to open up with goals per-game averages increasing from 2.15 in the first round to 2.62 in pool stage concluders from the European Championship. Since the start of Euro '96, a reasonable 51% of third round group games have produced Over 2.5 Goals 1.758/11.
Even so, it's difficult to envisage Saturday evening's showdown in the sweatbox of Seville opening out into a thrilling end-to-end encounter. Expect Spain to monopolise possession and territory with Slovakia happy to sit in their low defensive block - very similar styles and approaches to what we've already seen in the opening two matchdays.
With Slovakia having made the journey from Saint Petersburg, and with temperatures expected to be over 30ºC, Spain's domination of the ball should tell. The hosts have had their chances in both matches thus far and Luis Enrique's team should be backed to collect a vital victory in a fixture featuring Under 3.5 Goals, a 1.768/11 option on the Sportsbook.