Football Features

Poland duo make history against Spain to take Euro 2020 Group E to an exciting final day

By Harry Edwards

Published: 22:24, 19 June 2021

Group E of Euro 2020 is set for an exciting finish after Spain were held to a 1-1 draw by Poland on Saturday night.

Luis Enrique’s men went ahead but were unable to keep their lead and remain third in Group E, still without a win, while Sweden lead the group on four points. But, all four teams can still qualify for the last-16, setting up an exciting end next week.

Before we get to that though, let’s take a look at the biggest stories from the second round of Group E fixtures.

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1. Morata justifies Enrique faith

Spain were not good in their Group E opener against Sweden, struggling to make the most of their possession and chances against a team happy to sit back. Alvaro Morata was the target for most of the criticism as he had another poor evening in front of goal, which angered fans as he was picked to start over Gerard Moreno.

As a result, there were calls for Morata to be dropped from Spain’s starting XI to face Poland but Luis Enrique was quick to put his faith in the Juventus forward, insisting he would be one of the names on the team sheet.

“Yes, he will start,” Enrique told reporters pre-match. “I want him to continue doing the same, to continue to contribute what he contributes in attack and defence.

“Tomorrow we will play with Morata and 10 more.”

Enrique was true to his word, Morata started against Poland and after 25 minutes the decision was justified. In the early stages Spain looked to be in for a repeat of the Sweden result, dominating without making any big chances for themselves. Even the goal came through a poor shot, as Gerard Moreno looked to cut in and fire into the bottom left corner. Wojciech Szczesny wasn’t going to be tested by the effort, but he was beaten as Juventus teammate Morata got in front of Bartosz Bereszynski to tap in.

His joy looked to be short-lived as the customary offside flag was raised, but in a bizarre twist Morata saw his goal awarded after a VAR check. Cue the run and hug with Enrique as Morata celebrated his 20th Spain goal in just his 42nd cap – not a bad record for a player who receives so much criticism. That criticism did return as Morata missed the rebound from Moreno’s failed spot-kick, but it was an overall positive performance.

2. Robert Lewandowski continues impressive Euros record

In the build up to the tournament, there was a lot of focus on Robert Lewandowski and his goals. The Polish striker had had a record-breaking season with Bayern Munich, scoring 41 goals in the Bundesliga alone, a new high for the competition in a single campaign – bettering the 40-goal level previously held by Gerd Muller.

It was nothing new for Lewandowski, who was widely accepted as the best player in the world for 2020, robbed of the Ballon d’Or by the fact that award wasn’t handed out. There are an equal number of calls for him to win the award this year, but for some the recipient would be decided by the two continental tournaments this summer.

The question was, could Lewandowski take his form into Euro 2020? He was poor against Slovakia in the first game and in the first half on Saturday night, but Lewandowski was the man after half-time to keep Poland in Euro 2020. Slightly nudging Aymeric Laporte, Lewandowski got his head onto the end of Kamil Jozwiak’s cross to equalise for Poland, just his third goal at a major tournament in 13 games.

However, those three goals have come in each of the past three European Championships, making Lewandowski the first ever Polish player to score in three consecutive Euros, while only Cristiano Ronaldo joins him in netting at Euro 2012, 2016 and 2020.

3. Gerard Moreno shows why he must start

Although Morata started against Poland, so did Moreno, who was introduced on the right wing in place of Ferran Torres and he proved to be the key difference form their drab draw with Sweden. It took some time for him to get up and running but in Moreno Spain finally had someone who wasn’t afraid to go on a driving run at the defence.

Moreno spent a lot of the game trying to beat his man, whether taking it down the outside or trying to cut in towards goal, providing good support for Morata in the middle. Though many will know Moreno as the high-scoring centre-forward, he has had success when on the wing including last season for Villarreal with 10 of his 30 goals across all competitions coming in matches in which he started out wide.

It was a cut inside move from Moreno that brought Spain’s opening goal. Even though the Villarreal man’s shot was tame, as it was tapped in by Morata, the fact that he had tried to take the Polish defence on made the goal. And within moments of Poland equalising it was Moreno who found himself with the ball in the box looking to get Spain back on track once again down that right flank – winning a penalty for his side (which he missed).

Moreno was taken off with 23 minutes remaining and Spain lost their big presence on the right, resorting to cross that the Poland defence happily dealt with.

4. Kacper Kozłowski makes history

Robert Lewandowski wasn’t the only Polish player making history on Saturday night. In England’s 1-0 win over Croatia last Sunday, Jude Bellingham came on as a substitute to break the record as the youngest ever player to make an appearance at the European Championships, aged 17 years and 349 days.

However, Bellingham isn’t the youngest player at Euro 2020 and there was every chance that the record would not be his come the end of the tournament. The first chance for it to fall came in Poland’s game against Slovakia just 27 hours later, but Jude Bellingham will have breathed a sigh of relief as Kacper Kozlowski (who doesn’t turn 18 until October) was an unused substitute in Monday’s game.

Fast forward to Saturday night, however, and the record has fallen. Kozlowski was brought on after Lewandowski’s equaliser to try to add some more creativity to their midfield and while he wasn’t able to influence the result, he will leave Euro 2020 with a record.

Coming on at 17 year and 246 days, Kozlowski beat Bellingham’s record by 103 days, and it’s a feat that may take some breaking.

5. Emil Forsberg ends a long Swedish drought to secure top three finish

Over 24 hours before Saturday night’s big clash, Sweden built on their draw with Spain by beating Slovakia 1-0 to give themselves a very good chance of reaching the last 16.

Emil Forsberg was the man to get the goal, scoring from the penalty spot in the second half after Robin Quaison was brought down in the Slovakia era. In scoring, Forsberg became the first Swedish player to find the net at the Euros since Sebastian Larsson in a 2-0 win over France at Euro 2012 – one day off of a nine-year wait. Sweden’s only goal at Euro 2016 was scored by Irish defender Ciaran Clark as they bowed out of the group stage again.

Sweden could have secured their spot in the last-16 if Poland were beaten by Spain, but they go into their final clash with Poland knowing a draw will be enough. Even defeat could still see them through if Spain and Slovakia draw – while they also have a good chance at being one of the four best third-placed teams. A first Euro knockout appearance since 2004 is so close.