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Match Preview: Sweden not bothered by tactical criticism ahead of Slovakia clash
18 June 2021, 12:36 PM

Sweden came in for plenty of criticism for their defensive tactics in their scoreless draw with Spain, but captain Sebastian Larsson is not bothered as they prepare to face Slovakia in their next Euro 2020 Group E game on Friday.

The Swedes smothered the Spaniards and took off striker Alexander Isak midway through the second half as they orchestrated a shut-out they believe sets them up to reach the knockout stages.

“We are very secure in ourselves … people will always have opinions, criticism or not, somewhere our basic feeling is that we took a point from Spain away in our Euro opener, which as a result is good for us and gives us opportunities,” Larsson told reporters on Thursday.
A repeat of their park-the-bus tactics is unlikely against Slovakia.

“They (Slovakia) played in a clear way in a number of games now, our analysis is that it’s not a Spain type of game that we’ll meet, it’ll be a different type of game,” Sweden coach Janne Andersson said.

“We expect to have a little more ball in the build-up phase and we’ll have to drive the match forward more. They sit quite deep and they are very good in their counter-attacking phase … I believe they’ll back home a bit, but you can never know for sure,” he added.

Winger Dejan Kulusevski has returned to the squad following a positive COVID-19 test but may not feature against the Slovaks.

“Dejan is in a stepping-up phase and we’ll see what the doctors say. He’s not being considered to start, but it might possible for him to come on … I hope and believe he’ll be available, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Andersson said.

Sweden midfielder Matthias Svanberg is still isolating following a positive test.

Slovakia top Group E after their 2-1 win over Poland. Spain and Sweden are two points behind with the Poles bottom ahead of the second round of games.

The return of winger Dejan Kulusevksi to face Slovakia will bolster Sweden’s attacking options following an ultra-defensive display against Spain that earned them a scoreless draw, but few new fans at Euro 2020.

Janne Andersson’s side stifled the Spaniards in Seville as Juventus winger Kulusevksi watched on TV, isolated from his team mates along with midfielder Mattias Svanberg following positive tests for COVID-19.

Having never lost to the Slovakians, Andersson indicated that he and his side are unlikely to show them the same level of respect as they did to Spain.

“We have everything in our toolbox based on what we have practised, what we have prepared for and how we have played in different games these last few years,” Andersson told reporters.

“We have shared experiences of different opponents and the tactical flexibility in particular is a key — that we can handle different opponents and find the right weapon in every game that we should use to succeed,” he added.

Sweden striker Alexander Isak, who had a shot turned onto a post in the first half and created a chance that Marcus Berg should have scored from in the second, should lead the line, and he has good memories of playing against the Slovakians.

Isak netted his first international goals against Slovakia in January 2017 aged 17 years 113 days, making him the youngest player to score for Sweden.

The Swedes will face a tough task in Slovakia, who beat Poland 2-1 to top the group after the first round of games with Milan Skriniar getting the winner.

With no injury problems reported, Stefan Tarkovic has a full Slovakia squad to choose from, while Sweden’s Mikael Lustig may miss out after suffering a groin strain against Spain.

Dutch delight as victory over Austria seals top spot in Group C
17 June 2021, 11:07 PM

Wing back Denzel Dumfries had a hand in both goals as the Netherlands eased to a 2-0 victory over uninspiring Austria on Thursday and ensured they will win Euro 2020 Group C.

Memphis Depay scored a sixth goal in his last five internationals with a crisply-struck penalty after Austria captain David Alaba stepped on the foot of Dumfries and referee Orel Grinfeld pointed to the spot following the intervention of the Video Assistant Referee.

Depay missed an excellent opportunity to make it 2-0 when he sliced a shot wide with the goal at his mercy, but the home side added a second when Dumfries scored his second goal in as many games in the tournament after being teed up by substitute Donyell Malen.

The Dutch, on six points, cannot be overtaken at the top of the group going into their final game against North Macedonia on Monday.

Austria and Ukraine, who have three points each, meet at the same time in Bucharest in a winner-takes-all tussle for second place.

De Bruyne leads Belgium to 2-1 comeback win over Denmark
17 June 2021, 8:26 PM

Denmark scored the second-fastest goal in European Championship history but Belgium advanced to the knockout stages after Kevin de Bruyne orchestrated a 2-1 comeback victory in their Group B match on Thursday.

Denmark had the perfect start when midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg intercepted the ball to feed an unmarked Yussuf Poulsen, who arrowed a right-footed shot into the bottom corner with 99 seconds on the clock.

Belgium were poor in the first half but equalised nine minutes into the second from a counter-attack when Romelu Lukaku used his power to drive the ball forward and found De Bruyne, who squared the ball for Thorgan Hazard to score with a tap-in.

De Bruyne then broke Danish hearts when he gave Belgium the lead in the 70th minute, receiving the ball at the edge of the box from a slick passing move and firing a left-footed shot that beat goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

Belgium have a maximum six points from two games, while Denmark are bottom of the group after two losses. Russia and Finland have three points each after two games.

Match Preview: De Ligt to return to Dutch defence against Austria
17 June 2021, 8:09 PM

The Netherlands will have defender Matthijs de Ligt back in the starting line-up for Thursday’s European Championship Group C clash with Austria after he missed the team’s first game at the tournament, coach Frank de Boer said on Wednesday.

De Boer told a news conference that the 21-year-old De Ligt, who picked up a groin injury on the last day of his country’s training camp in Portugal about 10 days ago, would start the game at the Johan Cruyff Arena but refused to reveal who in the five-man defence would be dropped.

“De Ligt is in very good shape, has trained well and has shown that he is completely ready,” De Boer said.

It is expected to be the only change to the team that forced a dramatic late 3-2 win over Ukraine in Amsterdam on Sunday.

Austria also won their opening game in the group, beating debutants North Macedonia 3-1 in Bucharest.

Asked what impression they had made on him, De Boer answered: “A good one. They can play different systems from what I’ve seen. It’s a good team, lots of Red Bull (Salzburg) players. Then you know what happens: Volg Fussball (full gas football).”

De Boer also reacted to the one-match suspension handed to Austria striker Marko Arnautovic for his goal celebration against North Macedonia.

“I saw that there was an investigation, but I don’t know exactly what it was about. I am sorry for Austria, because he is a good player. It will be a loss for Austria and in that respect it is an advantage for us,” De Boer said.

Austria coach Franco Foda said forward Marko Arnautovic’s one-match ban following his angry goal celebration in their Euro 2020 opener was a blow but they have the squad depth to overcome his absence in Thursday’s Group C game against the Netherlands.

Earlier on Wednesday, European soccer’s governing body UEFA banned Arnautovic for “insulting another player” in the team’s 3-1 victory over North Macedonia on Sunday.

North Macedonia’s soccer governing body said remarks made by Arnautovic, who has a Serbian background, were directed at Gjanni Alioski who is of Albanian heritage.

Arnautovic, who also lashed out at North Macedonia fans, apologised on Monday but denied using racist language.

“It was bad news obviously,” Foda told reporters when asked about Arnautovic’s ban. “Marco will be missing and we’ll miss him, but we must compensate.”

“As a team we must get closer together. We had thought about putting him in the starting lineup, but now we have to rethink it but we will present a strong team.”

Foda said that Arnautovic had been provoked by some North Macedonia players and over-reacted.

“… But he admitted his mistake and apologised after the match,” Foda added.

“He and Alioski left each other as friends… we have to live with it now, with this verdict. There’s nothing we can do but we have enough players at our disposal for a good performance on the pitch.”

The Netherlands marked their return to a major tournament for the first time in seven years with a 3-2 win over Ukraine and Foda said he expects a tough test.

“We won our first match. It was very important, our first objective and now we have to build on that,” he said.

“They have a great team, but we have a lot of confidence after our victory, and it’ll be important to be brave.”

Match Preview: De Bruyne fit to play for Belgium against Denmark
17 June 2021, 5:15 PM

 

Belgium playmaker Kevin De Bruyne is fit to play against Denmark on Thursday and make a much-anticipated entry into the European Championship, coach Roberto Martinez said. 

De Bruyne suffered a double facial fracture in last month’s Champions League final, missing Belgium’s build-up to Euro 2020 and their first Group B game against Russia on Saturday, when they posted an impressive 3-0 victory. 

“He is medically fit. He has the green light to be in a match situation,” Martinez told a news conference on Wednesday. 

“Now, it is a question of seeing how long Kevin can play and how we can use the two games we have in five day to get him up to full fitness. 

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress he has made and every day he makes a big difference. 

“I could add Axel Witsel is in the same situation and it’s a little different for Eden Hazard because he was already involved in the friendly against Croatia and the game against Russia,” he added. 

“We want every player to be up to 90-minute fitness in the two games we have ahead,” Martinez added.

Belgium’s final group game is against Finland in St Petersburg on Monday. 

De Bruyne, 29, broke his nose and an eye socket after a clash with Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger as Manchester City lost the final on May 29. He underwent surgery five days later and spent a week recovering at home before joining up with the Belgian squad last week. 

Witsel, 32, is set for a surprise return after tearing an Achilles tendon in January while playing for Borussia Dortmund. 

After undergoing surgery, he was told it would be nine months before he could play again, but Martinez said Witsel’s disciplined rehabilitation has allowed him to return way ahead of schedule. 

Hazard, 30, had an injury-plagued season at Real Madrid but was used as a substitute against Russia and showed some of his old sparkle in a 20-minute cameo. 

The Danish Football Association has called on UEFA to change its procedures following the collapse of midfielder Christian Eriksen in their Euro 2020 match against Finland and the subsequent decision to resume the game. 

The Danes were offered the chance to restart the match the same evening or at 1200 midday on the following day. 

Despite being clearly shaken up, they resumed the match and lost 1-0, but coach Kasper Hjulmand and his players have since said they would have preferred not to have played. 

“It was a wrong decision and completely untenable that the players had to be on the field so soon after the horrible experience,” DBU chairman Jesper Moller said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“That is a situation players and coaches should not be put in, because it is not and should not be their decision.” 

Eriksen suffered a heart attack on the pitch and was taken to hospital where he is now recovering. 

UEFA has come in for sharp criticism from former Danish internationals Peter Schmeichel and Michael Laudrup, with the latter saying the choice of resuming on either Saturday or Sunday was not a choice at all. 

“We now want an evaluation of the entire decision-making process so that we can get all the relevant facts and information on the table,” Moller said. 

“We must look at a change in the rules to ensure that we are never in the same situation again. We are ready to present a resolution to UEFA,” he added. 

In a statement to Reuters, UEFA said it “treated the matter with the utmost respect for the sensitive situation and the players. It was decided to restart the match only after the two teams requested to finish the game on the same evening”. 

The Danes face Belgium in their second Group B game at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen on Thursday. 

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