LONDON: Spain put their disappointing start to Euro 2020 behind them with a 5-0 thrashing of Slovakia to reach the last 16 on Wednesday, while Poland were knocked out after a dramatic defeat by Sweden.
The much-maligned Alvaro Morata missed an early penalty but it was otherwise a perfect evening in Seville for Spain against Slovakia, who are out of the tournament, with Ukraine heading through from Group ‘C’ as one of the four best third-placed sides.
In the other game in Group ‘E’, Viktor Claesson’s injury-time winner secured Sweden top spot with a 3-2 win over Poland, for whom Robert Lewandowski netted twice in St Petersburg.
An embarrassing own-goal by goalkeeper Martin Dubravka in the first half put Spain on the way to victory, and it came only minutes after the hosts had missed another penalty and wasted more scoring chances.
Dubravka saved that early penalty kick from Alvaro Morata but then clumsily knocked the ball into his own net after it ricocheted high into the air off a shot by Pablo Sarabia.
Aymeric Laporte added to Spain’s lead before halftime, and Sarabia, Ferran Torres and another own-goal in the second half made it five for La Roja, who had been facing elimination in front of their fans.
The result eliminated Slovakia, which needed a draw to guarantee their place in the next round.
In one of the tournament’s most exciting games, Sweden appeared to be cruising after Emil Forsberg scored the second fastest goal in Euros’ history a mere 82 seconds in, followed by a second-half breakaway strike.
But Lewandowski, who hit the bar twice in the first half, narrowed Sweden’s lead two minutes later with a curling shot from outside the edge of the penalty area, then got a second in the 84th minute to set up a thrilling finale.
Poland needed a win to advance, but they couldn’t even hold on for the draw after Claesson broke free for the final goal in the last seconds.
On Tuesday, England clinched first place in Group ‘D’ with a 1-0 win against the Czech Republic, while Luka Modric’s rocket propelled Croatia into the last 16 as their 3-1 victory over Scotland eliminated their Covid-hit opponents on Tuesday.
Already assured of playing in the last 16, England made certain that the knockout tie will be played in front of their own fans at Wembley thanks to Raheem Sterling’s first-half winner against the Czechs.
At Wembley, the Czechs also knew they were sure to advance before kick-off, but their first defeat of the tournament left them in third place.
Croatia leapfrogged the Czechs into second place with a commanding second-half display in Glasgow featuring one of the goals of the tournament from Real Madrid midfielder Modric.
Scotland’s first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup ended in heartache as they failed to meet their target of reaching the knockout stages of an international competition for the first time.
Having started Group ‘D’ by narrowly beating Croatia 1-0 before being booed off after a drab 0-0 draw against Scotland, England produced a slightly more cohesive display against the Czechs.
There remains much for Gareth Southgate’s men to work on, but England coped efficiently after a disrupted build-up that saw Mason Mount and Ben Chilwell forced into self-isolation after Scotland’s coronavirus woes.
Southgate selected Jack Grealish to replace Mount and the Aston Villa midfielder provided a spark as his perfectly-flighted cross to the far post was headed in by Sterling in the 12th minute.
Arsenal’s 19-year-old winger Bukayo Saka, also given a surprise start by Southgate in place of Phil Foden, added pace and invention to the England attack. But England couldn’t find a killer second.
At Hampden Park, Callum McGregor cancelled out Nikola Vlasic’s early opener to give Scotland hope heading into half-time.
But Modric showed the class that made him the man to break Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s grip on the Ballon d’Or in 2018, a stunning strike with the outside of his foot just after the hour mark restoring Croatia’s lead.
Ivan Perisic’s header rubbed salt into Scottish wounds 13 minutes from full time.
Scotland finished with only one point and they will rue the fact that Chelsea midfielder Billy Gilmour was ruled out of the Croatia game after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Final standings (Tabulated under played, won, drawn, lost, goals scored, goals conceded, points): Group ‘D’ England 3 2 1 0 2 0 7 Croatia 3 1 1 1 4 3 4 Czech Republic 3 1 1 1 3 2 4 Scotland 3 0 1 2 1 5 1 Group ‘E’ Sweden 3 2 1 0 4 2 7 Spain 3 1 2 0 6 1 5 Slovakia 3 1 0 2 2 7 3 Poland 3 0 1 2 4 6 1
Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2021