Spain labor while Poland stay alive in Group E
In a group that was touted to be relatively straightforward for an in-form Spain pre-tournament, the picture that has been painted in Group E with one round left to play is hardly the one that Spanish artistry would have hoped for. Two matches played, two points and just one goal to show for their efforts is hardly the headlines Luis Enrique would have wished on himself given the quiet expectations surrounding a Spanish outfit whom many felt could make a deep run this summer at Euro 2020.
The numbers game completely went according to plan for La Roja at the Estadio La Cartuja, seeing a shade over 76% possession and doubling Polands shot totals (12-5) across the 90-minute period, but Spain remains as predictable as ever in build-up play. A missed chance from the spot by Gerard Moreno just minutes after Robert Lewandowski’s equalizer could have spared their blushes, but Moreno’s effort hit the post and Álvaro Morata’s first-time effort off the rebound bounced harmlessly wide of Wojciech Szczęsny’s goal.
Despite the predictable nature of Spain, they still remain a side that only needs a nudge in the right direction before the goals start to flow. No side has created more big chances at Euro 2020 than Spain, which has crafted eight but has just one goal to show for their efforts. It has not been good enough but Spain is not terribly far off from getting it right.
A battle of center-forwards that had one clear winner
Both Spain and Poland have been criticized for their lack of goals despite the firepower that both national teams can call upon at any given moment. For Spain, a forward cadre that consists of the aforementioned Álvaro Morata and Gerard Moreno, with Ferran Torres and Mikel Oyarzabal added to the equation, the last thing Spain should be struggling for is goals on the scoreboard. But Morata has come under constant criticism over the length of his national team career, and even though his record on paper looks quite solid (20-goals in 42-caps), his level of inconsistency when chances fall at his feet is frustrating, to say the least.
Morata did, in fact, find the opener for Spain and seemed lively in certain passages of play, but on the whole, he is still well short of hitting the efficiency or effectiveness of the likes of David Villa or Fernando Torres, a trend that has continued across his career for both club and country.
As for Poland, they are a side that can claim the world’s best center-forward for the last few years now in Robert Lewandowski, but even the sensational Bayern Munich goal-getter is not shielded from criticism from national media at home, or across Europe as a whole when international tournaments come calling. All told, his 294-goals in 329-appearances for Bayern across all competitions presents a ludicrous goal return, and through 696-appearances in his career, Lewandowski is just 16-goals shy of hitting the 500 mark.
But with just 2-goals in twelve caps for Poland at both the World Cup and the European Championship, a 1-in-6 strike rate is worlds apart from his goal-scoring feats at club level for both Bayern, as well as former clubs Borussia Dortmund, and Lech Poznań. His strike rate for Poland is incredibly impressive, sitting at 67-goals in 121-caps, making him the countries all-time leader in both caps and goals, but Lewa has never truly gotten it done on the big stage for Biało-czerwoni, and perhaps the notion that he should be capable enough to carry the nation on his shoulders is a bridge too far.
For a player even as capable as he is, he still needs to be surrounded by creativity and a capable supporting cast. Poland is front-loaded with center-forward talent through the additions of Arkadiusz Milik and Krzysztof Piatek (though both are missing through injury), but apart from Piotr Zieliński, lack the creativity and support structure to avoid Lewandowski being regularly isolated against opposition defenses happy to make his like difficult for 90-minutes.
Lewandowski had the last laugh tonight, however, netting the equalizer after out-muscling Aymeric Laporte to head low past Unai Simón and earning Poland a vital point. They clash with Sweden on the final day where nothing short of a win, and Spain earning the same result against Slovakia, will be good enough to send them to the next round. But if there is one player anyone can bank on finding the goals when they need them most, even if he has not hit the same heights in the red and white of Poland, it’s Robert Lewandowski.