Sports

GulfNews Sports

Euro 2020 Group E match preview: After COVID-19 scare, Spain ready to face Sweden

Football|: Seville: It was only a week ago that Spain received some bad news that could have jeopardized its participation in the European Championship. Captain Sergio Busquets tested positive for the coronavirus and the national team suddenly faced the possibility of a COVID-19 outbreak. Busquets left the team’s training camp and the rest of the squad had to go into isolation. Everyone had to be tested and retested. Spain coach Luis Enrique had to hastily put together a parallel squad in case more players were infected. Personalized training routines were put into place. The team’s final warm-up match had to be played with an under-21 squad. Fears increased when a second player, defender Diego Llorente, tested positive a few days later, and Spanish soccer federation president Luis Rubiales said more positive results were likely. More players were pulled away from their vacations to join the parallel training bubble. Tournament delayed It was a grim outlook for “La Roja” on the eve of the tournament that was delayed for a year because of the pandemic. But normalcy was somehow restored for Spain ahead of its Group E opener against Sweden on Monday in Seville. Little by little, the good news started trickling in. Llorente’s test result turned out to be a false-positive. The government rushed in to vaccinate the entire squad. Players were allowed to practice together again after tests kept coming back negative. Spain will be much closer to full strength when it takes on the Swedes at La Cartuja Stadium. “It was a difficult week, no doubt about that,” Luis Enrique said Sunday. “I think one important thing as a human being is the capacity to adapt, and we are in that moment to think about the future with hope.” Jordi Alba, who will be Spain’s captain on Monday in the absence of Busquets, said the squad was prepared despite the setbacks. “Everyone is doing well,” Alba said. “We are motivated and in good physical condition despite everything that happened.” Players and coaches for Spain and Sweden offered messages of support for Denmark midfielder Christian Eriksen, who was recovering after collapsing on Saturday. “When something like this happens, there’s no such thing as rivals or different nationalities,” Sweden captain Sebastian Larsson said. “He’s a colleague and a fellow human being.” Before practicing on Sunday, Sweden players and coaches lined up behind a banner with the message: “Keep fighting, Christian.” Sweden's manager Janne Andersson, center, speaks to his players during a training session at the La Cartuja stadium in Seville, Spain, Sunday, June 13, 2021. Sweden will play against Spain on Monday for the Group E of the Euro 2020 soccer championship. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis) Image Credit: AP Sweden also had to deal with setbacks because of the coronavirus. Dejan Kulusevski and Mattias Svanberg tested positive last week and had to go into isolation. They won’t be available to play on Monday, and neither will Busquets. The Barcelona player had taken over as captain of the national team after Luis Enrique decided not to call up veteran Sergio Ramos because he was plagued by injuries this season. Sweden will be without its own veteran star, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who ended his five-year international retirement in March but had to rule himself out of Euro 2020 because of a knee injury. It was because of the virus that the match will be played in Seville instead of Bilbao, the Spanish city originally picked as host. But the high contagion rate of the virus in the northern part of the country forced UEFA to change venues. Group matches About 16,000 fans will be able to attend matches at La Cartuja in the southern city of Seville, where Spain will also play its other group matches against Poland and Slovakia. A quarterfinal match will also be played at La Cartuja. Local officials removed the requirement for fans to show a negative test to attend matches after many complained they were not told of the requirement at the time of purchase. Luis Enrique didn’t say who would be replacing Busquets, the only player remaining in the squad that was in Spain’s World Cup-winning team in 2010. Manchester City player Rodri Hernandez was the likely substitute in the midfield. “We would have loved to be able to count on Busquets, but these things happen with other teams as well,” Luis Enrique said. “We can’t complain, we don’t have any excuses. We have a very good team and we are thrilled about making our debut.”

GulfNews Sports

Euro 2020 Group E match preview: Poland bid for rare fast start against Slovakia

Football|: St Petersburg: Poland accept they are favourites to win their Euro 2020 Group E opener against Slovakia today but must improve their poor record in tournament opening games, coach Paulo Sousa said. The Poles have failed five out of six times to win their first match at the World Cup or the Euros this century. “If we have the same mentality tomorrow as our opponent, the quality players we have can make us go home with three points,” Sousa told reporters. Sousa is a former Portugal international who took over as Poland coach in January. “The process of team building is ongoing,” Sousa said. “For me it is a double responsibility to represent Poland - it is a duty for me to make all Poles feel proud.” Poland’s biggest weapon should be European Golden Boot winner Robert Lewandowski, but Sousa must cope without two other big names in his attack because Arkadiusz Milik and Krzysztof Piatek are injured. Juventus goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and Euro 2016 stalwart Grzegorz Krychowiak are in the squad, however, as the team bid to at least match their performance of reaching the quarter-finals five years ago in France where they lost on penalties to eventual champions Portugal. “The backbone of our team from two previous major tournaments is still here, we understand each other with eyes closed,” Krychowiak said. Poland have scored 11 goals in five matches under Sousa in 2021, but scored the opening goal in the game only twice, against Russia and Andorra. “It is important to score first against teams playing from counter-attack,” Krychowiak said. “We cannot start the match in the second half.” Slovakia know they will have to be strong at the back today as they play in only their third major tournament but have reached the knockouts in both their previous appearances on a major stage at the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2016. “Poland are a tough opponent,” said captain Marek Hamsik, who has 26 goals in 126 games for Slovakia and led the team to the last 16 in their first European Championship appearance five years ago. “They have huge quality, especially in attack, so we have to be strong in defence but have to also show what we are capable of doing,” added the 33-year-old. Tough group Slovakia’s veteran squad, with the 30-year-old Robert Mak and Juraj Kucka, 34, joining Hamsik in midfield, will attempt to navigate a tough group which also includes Sweden and Spain. Centre back Milan Skriniar, fresh from winning the Serie A title with Inter Milan, will be tasked with keeping Lewandowski, this season’s European Golden Boot winner, in check. Slovakia head coach Stefan Tarkovic, an assistant during Euro 2016, said he hoped his side could build on their strong defensive displays in their two warmup fixtures, a 1-1 draw with Bulgaria and a goalless stalemate against Austria. Tarkovic said the team would be ready for an aggressive Poland side, who are 21st in the FIFA rankings, 15 places above Slovakia. “They have a strong attack. We have to prepare for their way of attacking and hopefully we will be effective in attack as well,” he said.

GulfNews Sports

Euro 2020 Group D match preview: Scotland back at last, take on Czech Republic

Football|: Glasgow: Scotland’s nearly quarter-century wait is about to end. The Scots haven’t competed in a major men’s soccer tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France, but that will change today when the team takes on the Czech Republic at the European Championship. It’s been a long time coming for the Tartan Army. And although there isn’t much expectation for a serious run at Euro 2020, the Scottish fans are happy to be here. Party mode That was evident on Saturday night with Glasgow in full party mode just a week after the city’s restaurants and pubs were allowed to reopen indoor seating areas. Dozens of fans sang near the main George Square, and street stalls sold “No Scotland, No Party” flags. There was no sign of the sectarianism that has blighted club soccer in this city. The main objective for Scotland coach Steve Clarke will be to get at least a draw against the Czech Republic, and hope they can advance to the next round from Group D. “The Czech Republic give us different problems to England and Croatia, so that can have a bearing on selection, but I am pretty settled (on the team),” Clarke said. One of the biggest headaches for Scotland ahead of the tournament was that two of his best players, captain Andy Robertson and Kieran Tierney, normally play in the same position at left back. But Clarke has found a way to make it work, with both playing on the left - Tierney in a back three and Robertson in a more advanced role at left wingback. And the coach also has to decide whether to start 20-year-old Billy Gilmour, who has impressed of late. “The good thing for me is that no matter who I select, I expect them all to be fantastic for their country,” Clarke said. “As a manager or a coach, that’s a big thing that you can trust all your players.” There have been some bumps along the way. Scotland had to set up its training camp in northeast England because the team qualified for the postponed tournament one year after its group rivals. That allowed Croatia and Czech Republic to book Scotland’s premier training bases at St. Andrews and the national training center in Edinburgh. But then last month they canceled plans to use them, citing UEFA concerns about local COVID-19 rules in Scotland. But Clarke has said that there are benefits, with less distractions than if the team’s camp was based in Scotland. One distraction Scotland hasn’t wanted is the recent criticism that the team’s players won’t take a knee before kickoff of Euro 2020 matches. Clarke argued that the purpose of the anti-racism gesture “has been diluted and undermined by the continuation of abuse towards players.” Instead, he said the team would “stand up” to racism. The team backtracked slightly and said it would kneel before kickoff of Scotland’s match against England at Wembley Stadium in London on June 18. “We will show solidarity with our counterparts in England, many of whom are teammates of our own players, and who have found themselves on the receiving end of abuse from fans in recent international matches,” Clarke said. 10-match ban The Czech Republic is also trying to shake off a very different racism scandal, which runs deeps in Glasgow. Ondrej Kudela is appealing against a 10-match ban for racially abusing a Black opponent, Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara, in a Europa League match in March in the city. Czech players say they are against racism in any form and just want to focus on the tournament. And that means playing the energetic, high-pressing game that the team is known for. The Czechs know their opponents well after losing twice to Scotland in the Nations League last year. “Scotland are sturdy, tough, and have a good defense. Big, strong, aggressive,” Czech Republic coach Jaroslav Silhav} said. “They break fast.” One of the key players Silhav} will be relying on to break up Scotland’s attack is box-to-box midfielder Tomas Soucek, who had a standout season with West Ham along with club teammate Vladimir Coufal. The team will be looking for goals from Bayern Leverkusen forward Patrik Schick, who will be looking to impress at the tournament. The Czech Republic is trying to bounce back after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. And Scotland could be just that opponent to get that going, with the motivation there for revenge after last year’s defeats. “I think it may be third time lucky,” Silhav} said. “We will get there?.”