ST. PETERSBURG, Russia: It always felt like a set piece would settle a tough-to-watch European Championship match between Sweden and Slovakia, and Emil Forsberg duly delivered.
The Sweden midfielder converted a 77th-minute penalty Friday to give his team a 1-0 victory at Saint Petersburg Stadium, putting the Swedes on the brink of the knockout stage.
Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka brought down substitute Robin Quaison as the striker ran in on goal from Alexander Isak’s deft flick. Dubravka dived the correct way on Forsberg’s penalty but couldn’t keep it out.
Sweden have four points in Group E, and that could be enough to advance to the round of 16. Slovakia has three points after opening with a 2-1 victory over Poland.
There was only one shot on target in the first half and the referee blew the whistle for halftime without any stoppage time.
Sweden, perhaps having sized up Slovakia’s limited threat, exerted more pressure in the second half and left back Ludwig Augustinsson’s header forced Dubravka to make a flying, one-handed save.
Isak, Sweden’s most dangerous attacker, grew into the game. After heading just over, he embarked on a mazy dribble to the left and then back inside before his powerful shot was turned away by Dubravka.
The goalkeeper spoiled his performance by coming off his line too slowly to challenge Quaison, who went down under the slightest contact.
Forsberg, quiet up to the that point, made no mistake with the best chance of the match.
Scoring becomes key as Spain and Poland clash
Spain and Poland will have a common challenge when they meet Saturday at the European Championship.
Spain created chance after chance against Sweden but was still held to a 0-0 draw in their opening match at Euro 2020. Poland lost to Slovakia 2-1 as Robert Lewandowski was held scoreless in yet another lackluster performance at a major soccer tournament.
The focus on Spain at La Cartuja Stadium will be on Álvaro Morata, the striker singled out by fans and Spanish media for his misses against Sweden. He had also been ineffective in Spain’s warm-up match against Portugal, which also ended in a scoreless draw.
Spain coach Luis Enrique said Friday he will keep Morata in the team despite all the criticism.
“I’ll tell Álvaro to keep being himself, to keep contributing with what he contributes in attack and with what he contributes in defense,” Luis Enrique said in Madrid. “Tomorrow (Saturday) we start with Morata and 10 more.”
Luis Enrique’s other choices in attack include Dani Olmo and Ferran Torres, who started alongside Morata against Sweden, and Gerard Moreno, Mikel Oyarzabal, Adama Traoré and Pablo Sarabia.
“We have some players with a lot of quality in attack,” Sarabia said. “It’s up to our coach to decide who will play. I’ve been working hard every day to earn minutes, whether it’s as a starter or coming off the bench. I’m staying very motivated and keeping the desire to help the team reach our common goal, which is to win on Saturday.”
Spain got some good news on Friday with the return of captain Sergio Busquets, who rejoined the squad after a period of isolation following a positive test result for the coronavirus.
Luis Enrique said Busquets showed no symptoms of the virus while in isolation and was able to practice at home. He said the veteran midfielder, the only player left from Spain’s World Cup-winning squad in 2010, is in condition to play on Saturday.
“He was away but it was as if he had been here,” Luis Enrique said. “You can tell that he is our captain.”
Poland’s path to victory will likely have to go through Lewandowski, who hasn’t fared well with his national team at major tournaments despite undisputed success throughout his career at club level. He is coming off a record-breaking season with Bayern Munich, but again failed to impress with Poland in the opener against Slovakia. He has only two goals in 12 matches with the national team at either a World Cup or a European Championship.
“We spoke about (the) game against Slovakia. Every player said what he should have done better. We don’t want to come back to this,” Poland defender Jan Bednarek said. “The matter is closed. We won’t have a game like that again. I am sure about that.”