Match Preview: Do or die – Spain in critical condition but ready for revival vs Slovakia

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With their rich footballing pedigree, Spain never expected to need a win from their final Group E game against Slovakia to reach the next stage of Euro 2020 – but they are forced to treat Wednesday’s match as a knockout game itself.

Spain were booed off the pitch by their own fans after Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Poland in Seville, which followed an opening goalless stalemate with Sweden to equal their worst ever start to a European Championship since 1996.

The three-times European champions are third in a wide open Group E where any of leaders Sweden, second-placed Slovakia or fourth-placed Poland can go through to the last 16 knockouts.

Slovakia, playing only their second Euros as an independent nation, lost 1-0 to Sweden in their last game and also need a win to guarantee progress though a point may suffice.

They will look to exploit Spanish nerves.

“The Spanish have a knife to their necks right now so they have to win by any means possible and they’re going to be feeling a lot of pressure,” said defender Tomas Hubocan.


Spain’s Cesar Azpilicueta said his recent Champions League win as captain of Chelsea, after a stuttering start to the season, was proof that fortunes can turn around.

“You don’t win anything by making a good start. The important thing is how you finish,” he said. “I lived that this season with Chelsea and the lesson I took from it was you can’t give up when everyone presumes you’re dead.”

Defender Azpilicueta has not played so far but there is clamour in Spanish media for him to return to provide leadership and allow Marcos Llorente, who has been playing at right back, to resume his usual attacking role.

Captain and midfielder Sergio Busquets was sorely missed in Spain’s first two games due to testing positive for COVID-19, but is set to return against Slovakia.

“We can’t wait for the game to arrive, we would love to have six points but going through is still in our hands and we depend on ourselves, which is the crucial thing. And we’re playing at home,” Azpilicueta added.

“It’s a do or die situation. Many of us have been in situations like this before and gone on to win things. Everyone knows how to react. I’m convinced that if we stick together, including the fans, we’re going to do it.”

Spain have pledged to store former Netherlands player Rafael van der Vaart’s scathing assessment about their shaky start in Euro 2020 in their memory banks should they come up against the Dutch later in the tournament.

Van der Vaart, a pundit for broadcaster NOS during the tournament, said Spain’s performances so far have been “horrible” and they “only know how to pass the ball from one side to the other” after the 2008 and 2012 champions only managed to draw their first two games against Poland and Sweden.

The former Real Madrid and Real Betis midfielder, who failed to stop Andres Iniesta scoring the only goal in the 2010 World Cup final, has caused a stir in the Spanish media and his comments also irked the players, who returned fire.

“Van der Vaart wanted his moment of glory and he is having it,” said Spain midfielder Koke on Spanish radio station Cadena COPE.

“I saw him in the World Cup final, and here at our training base we have a picture of Iniesta’s goal against the Netherlands with him next to him. You have to respect people’s opinions but we’ll remember these words.

“We’re not going to hang them up in the dressing room but we’ll keep them in our memories in case we end up playing (the Dutch).”

While Spain have made their worst start to a Euros since 1996 and need to beat Slovakia on Wednesday to guarantee their place in the last 16, the Netherlands have won all three games and are the top scoring side in the tournament with eight goals.

Van der Vaart’s words also irked Spain midfielder Pablo Sarabia.

“He made a big mistake with those comments,” he told Radio Marca.

“And especially as a former footballer. He has messed up, but the only memory I have of him is the 2010 World Cup and it didn’t go too well for him as we won the final.”