By: Patrick Smietanka
On paper, Group E doesn’t exactly look as exciting as some of the other groups in the tournament, however, diving a little closer may reveal some of the unsung heroes along with great matchups coming this month. Group E consists of Spain, Poland, Sweden and Slovakia battling it off in the group stage.
A usual favourite in every major tournament, the Spanish National team has a bright young squad ready to bring their nation back to former glory. Ranked sixth in the world and not having won the Euros since 2012, Spain has still maintained its dominance at club level with teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atletico Madrid consistently challenging for the Uefa Champions League and Europa League respectively. After releasing their squad for the Euro’s, Spanish coach Luis Enrique has controversially left out any Real Madrid players that could have helped for the tournament, the most surprising of all, former Spain captain Sergio Ramos. Nevertheless, the Spaniards are still loaded with talent and experience.
David De Gea looks to start in goal, his performances this season allowed Manchester United to finish second in the Premier League having kept 9 clean sheets during the season.
Without Sergio Ramos, the Spanish defence will have huge shoes to fill but the likes of newly transferred (From France to Spain) Aymeric Laporte, experienced Jordi Alba and 2021 UCL winner Cesar Azpilicueta look to maintain an organized defence for Spain.
For this tournament, their star stunning midfield contains the likes of Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Busquets, Rodri Hernandez and Koke to keep that level of experience and control during the game. A young star to look for in that Spanish midfield is FC Barcelona wonderkid Pedri who has gotten the call up at only 18 years old but has proven himself when breaking into the first team this season. Their attack looks to focus more on technical ability and skill, Mikel Oyarzabal, Gerard Moreno, Alvaro Morata and Adama Traore are just a few of the newcomers in this refurbished Spanish side that will look to carry them through the tournament.
A lot of talent from throughout Europe’s top clubs, will the decision of leaving out many of Real Madrid’s stars cost the Spaniards? One thing’s for sure, as one of the favourites of the tournament they are undeniably a squad to watch out for, VAMOS!
The Polish national team has had a pretty quick uprising in recent years after co-hosting back in 2012, getting to a quarterfinal in 2016 and qualifying for the World Cup for 2018. Ranked 21st in the world, Poland is not a particular favourite but definitely a squad with unbelievable goal-scoring potential and a dependable defence with many young stars pushing through the ranks at club level this season.
In goal, fan-favourite Wojciech Szczęsny contributed to Juventus’ double cup winning season with nine clean sheets in all competitions for the Turin giants, the reliable 6’5” shot-stopper will most likely start with Łukasz Fabiański to rotate depending on their form.
Their defence will start Jan Bednarek from Southampton, the experienced Kamil Glik and late bloomer Michał Helik who has played 52 games this season. All are strong traditional centre-backs that would make for a great three in the back-formation.
Poland’s midfield will look to contain the dependable Grzegorz Krychowiak, young newcomer Kamil Jóźwiak, and box to box maestro Piotr Zieliński, in recent years many gaps have yet to be filled for the Poles midfield play but with new Portugues coach Paulo Sousa, new tactics could prove differently this campaign.
Lastly and certainly not least, Poland’s attack will be lead up top with The Best FIFA Men's Player 2020, Robert Lewandowski, he will be supported by fellow striker Arkadiusz Milik and Karol Świderski who have had decent seasons with Marseille in France and PAOK in Greece. Much of Poland’s hopes rely on Lewandowski after scoring a record 41 goals in the Bundesliga this season, he will need all the help he can get and with this young squad, a push for the knockout stage looks more than reasonable.
Similar to Poland ranked only three places above them, Sweden has also had some time since they have competitively challenged for a European Championship, 1992 was when they hosted and managed to get their best finish to the Semi-Finals. For this campaign, they look to prove themselves after a heartfelt loss to Swedish legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic that retained a knee injury after his announcement to return back to the national team. Nevertheless, the Swedes will line up with reliable Robin Olsen who has had 43 caps for the national team but they could also choose to go with Karl-Johan Johnsson who has been good at club level for Copenhagen as well.
The more notable names in the squad are in the defence with English league stars Victor Lindelöf, Emil Krafth, and Pontus Jansson along with veteran Andreas Granqvist who hold a strong defensive line. In the midfield, new and old clash with Emil Forsberg and Sebastian Larsson teaming with Watford’s Ken Sema and Juventus star Dejan Kulusevski who can play on the flanks and bring that pace to the squad. As Ibrahimovic is out with injury the Swedes will not have to worry about a direct replacement, the goal-scoring ability of youngster Alexander Isak who netted 17 times for Real Sociedad in La Liga along with Robin Quaison and Marcus Berg will make sure their goal needs are met.
Having already faced Spain in the qualifiers leading up to the Euro’s, the Swedes will want a second chance at redemption after a 3-0 loss back in June of 2019. Overall it is looking like a race for second place between Poland and the Swedes as they both have a lot to prove during the upcoming tournament.
Many would consider the outlier of group E to be Slovakia, with not a lot to lose, the Slovaks will be participating in only their two ever European championship, the first being five years ago in 2016 where they managed to go no further than the round of 16. Ranked 36th in the world, it is easy to assume that Slovakia won’t be making it past the group stages this year, that being said, it might come as a surprise that their squad has more than a few worldbeaters who play at the top stage in Europe’s club level.
Starting with their goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka has been consistent and borderline exceptional for Newcastle in the Premier League, the 32-year-old has had 25 clean sheets in the last 3 seasons for the magpies and has returned to prove himself on the national level.
In the defence, 2021 Scudetto winner Milan Škriniar will be the backbone of the Slovakian defence with help from Bundesliga starter Peter Pekarík, Denis Vavro, and youngster Tomáš Hubočan. Their midfield and strongest factor on the pitch will rely on Napoli legend Marek Hamšík and fellow Serie A players Stanislav Lobotka and defensive unit Juraj Kucka to most likely play a more aggressive counter-attacking play.
For the Slovaks to finish off those counter attacking plays we will see Róbert Boženík, Michal Ďuriš and Dávid Strelec lead the line. Although not widely known attackers, the front three will be supported by an experienced squad of players giving their all.
Finishing third in the qualifiers, Slovakia beat both Ireland and Northern Ireland by a tight margin to barely qualify for the tournament. Most likely we will see Slovakia swiftly exiting the tournament before the knockout stages but football can be a toss-up, we will see them prove it in their first game against Poland on June 14.