Spain has failed to get the job done again at Euro 2020, drawing with Poland in Seville and setting up a frantic final round of matches in Group E.
The game was entertaining for neutral fans, but equal parts frustrating and relieving for both teams, with the night revolving around the performances of their respective star strikers, Alvaro Morata and Robert Lewandowski.
Pressure on both main men
Spain came into the game after a frustrating start to the tournament with a 0-0 draw against Sweden.
Concerns rose about Luis Enrique’s side after the Swede’s block defence held firm for 90 minutes, blunting La Furia Roja’s overwhelming weight of possession.
Poland had opened the campaign with a loss to Slovakia, putting them well behind the mark for qualification, and needing to get a result of some sort against Spain to avoid an early exit.
In particular, the pressure was squarely on Poland’s Lewandowski and Spain’s Morata, who had struggled early in the tournament.
Spain’s high-possession game has usually been enough to create enough chances to win games, but in comparison with the likes of Belgium, France, Germany and Portugal, they have appeared to lack a cutting edge early on at Euro 2020.
Enrique stood by Morata after his poor performance against Sweden. He opted to change Ferran Torres for Gerard Moreno on the right side of attack, and this paid dividends in the 25th minute.
Moreno half-drove, half crossed the ball into the area, Morata got in front of his marker and was present to flick the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the six-yard box to give Spain the lead.
For the Juventus striker and indeed the Spanish team, the joy of the goal was matched by relief. Morata ran across the pitch to embrace his manager to thank him for keeping the faith.
Most expected Spain to go on with the game after that.
At the other end, the Polish team was getting frustrated.
Lewandowski, a prolific scorer for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, had only scored two goals from 12 tournament games for Poland ahead of the Spanish clash.
His team was not totally lacking in chances, as they looked a lot more of a threat in attack against Spain than Sweden had been in the opening round, but finishing was proving a problem.
Ten minutes after Spain’s opener, Lewandowski went wide on the right and produced a deft cross into the box where a waiting Karol Swiderski stunned everyone by opting to try and lift his foot to hook the ball home instead of getting his head to it — he succeeded only in sending it over the bar in a big-let off for Spain.
Just before half-time they had another clear-cut chance, when Swiderski smashed a shot from the edge of the area — this time it cannoned off the post but rebounded into the path of Lewandowski. He charged in but hit it straight at Unai Simon, who spread himself to make the save.
At half-time, most were tipping Spain to go on with it and extend their lead, while Poland’s task appeared much harder.
But momentum swung again soon after the break.
Poland’s delivery to Lewandowski continued to be hit or miss, but finally, Kamil Jozwiak got a cross spot-on from the right wing, and the striker rose and flicked a perfect header into the bottom corner.
With the game in the balance, Spain was perhaps lucky to be awarded a penalty in the 57th minute for Jakub Moder standing on Moreno’s foot after he got a cross away in the box.
But with a chance to wrest control of the game back, Moreno and Morata both fluffed their lines.
Moreno’s spot kick struck the base of the post, then with the goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny grounded, the ball rebounded to Morata, who side-footed the ball wide with the goal at his mercy.
Spain tried increasingly desperately to grab a winner in the latter stages of the game, but they lacked composure and Poland appeared relatively comfortable.
In the end, Poland was good value for the point.
Where to now?
Both sides came away with something from the game, but only one team was happy.
The Poles clearly fancy their chances now of beating Sweden in the final game and grabbing second or third in the group.
On the basis of their performance against Spain, they are clearly a chance. They were much more coherent in attack than their opening game and had two of the better chances in the game in addition to their goal.
While Sweden’s block defence may frustrate them, they will go in with confidence that they can create the chances and Lewandowski can get the job done.
Spain, on the other hand, have a straightforward-on-paper match against Slovakia, but doubts clearly remain after tonight’s result.
They looked better with Moreno on the right, but the bottom line is that despite nearly 70 per cent of possession, and five shots on target compared to just two from Poland, Spain couldn’t put the game away.
Normally you would expect Spain’s class to tell, but Slovakia are likely to feel that a draw will be enough in their final game, and if they shut up shop and try to emulate Sweden, can Enrique count on his men to break them down and finish their chances? Only time will tell.
With all four sides in with a shout of making it to the second round, the simultaneous matches (starting 2:00am Thursday morning AEST) promise to provide plenty of drama.